Author Interview: Tasos Kazepides
Tasos Kazepides is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy of Education at Simon Frazer University where he has taught for 30 years. He has also taught at Temple University, The University of Illinois, The University of Alberta and The Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki in Greece.
Why did you decide to write Education as Dialogue: its prerequisites and its enemies?
My interest in dialogue developed in an indirect way. When I was very young I went to ask our priest why there was so much natural and man-made evil in the world if the world had been created by an omnipotent and holy God. He said “My son that is the question that the devil put in your mind. You should try to get rid of it and also ask our Lord for forgiveness!” I was shocked! But that primitive dogmatic answer was also liberating for me. Instead of rational dialogue I got a dogmatic stopper. I never went back to that priest or the church.
When I studied philosophy of education I became very interested in the nature and function of doctrines and indoctrination and wrote several papers on that subject. One of my early Greek papers, “The Ideological Confusion and the Indoctrination of the Young in the Greek Educational System”, upset the Greek Church and the whole ideological right-wing establishment of the country and resulted in me being charged with “insulting the Greek Orthodox religion”. The trial in Athens lasted for four days and became a very important event of the times. The most important intellectuals of the country came to my defence, hundreds of colleagues from the English-speaking world wrote letters to the Greek government and six lawyers from Athens offered their services for free. The trial turned into a philosophy of education seminar. I was found not guilty and was invited to speak on the subject in several cities, where I tried to engage the audiences in genuine dialogue. The results were truly astonishing and encouraging: in each city the public lecture/dialogue lasted for three or four hours.
After the trial I started thinking seriously about dialogue and its absence in modern Greek society. In 2004 I published a book in Greek entitled “The Importance of Dialogue and its Enemies”. It was while I was working on that book that I thought that the best way to think about education is as genuine dialogue between teachers and students.
What is the main aim of the book, and why is it particularly important now?
The aim of the book is primarily to get a clear view of dialogue and education and to examine their necessary prerequisites. There is very little careful and original work on dialogue in the literature. The two most important views I found are those of Plato and Oakeshott. According to the first, human thinking is dialogical, and according to the second, educational engagement is necessary because we attain our humanity not by nature but through interaction and dialogue with other human beings.
What has been lacking until now is the study of the character and fundamental importance of the countless prerequisites of all human development and the centrality of those prerequisites for education and genuine dialogue. These prerequisites, says Wittgenstein, constitute the “riverbed” of all our thinking and acting with reasons; they are the “axis”, the “scaffolding”, the “hinges” of all our thoughts, judgements, arguments, theories, language, and actions. We do not learn them, the way we learn theories, doctrines, etc., but acquire them by examples and by practice -- just the way we acquire our mother tongue but learn a foreign language. All these prerequisites are beyond doubt; only insane, mad, demented, idiotic halfwits would express doubt about such propositions, and their doubt would be hollow, senseless and without consequences.
I have classified these prerequisites as follows: 1) There are first the countless uses of language, such as describing, explaining, promising, reporting, evaluating, etc., and the standards immanent in all of them that we acquire very early in our lives. 2) In acquiring language we also acquire a plethora of rules of logic, such as the rule of non-contradiction, not begging the question, being consistent and the like. 3) The intellectual virtues, such as disinterested curiosity, patience, intellectual honesty, exactness, industry, concentration and the ability to recognize small differences are also acquired as the young recognize them in the conduct and utterances of others. 4) Finally, among the innumerable prerequisites of genuine dialogue and human flourishing are the ordinary virtues of justice, honesty and respect for other human beings, care for others, courage, open-mindedness, thoughtfulness and all the other gentle virtues that are summarized by the Greek word philanthropy. These virtues are akin to the rest of the riverbed; they are universal in that they are universally recognized human excellences, but they are not absolute and detached abstractions; they are formed within particular cultures, histories and shared visions of the good life – they are not specific rules that must be followed but open-ended ideals that must be pursued.
And what is it that draws you, personally, to this area of research?
It is the recognition of the fundamental importance of the prerequisites for genuine dialogue and the central importance of dialogue for education and for all civilized life. Getting clear about the prerequisites of dialogue and education enables us to distinguish those prerequisites from prejudices, doctrines and other pernicious beliefs: as I said earlier, all doctrines are learned whereas all the prerequisites are acquired.
What sort of reaction do you hope the book will get?
I hope the book will be read by teachers of all levels of education and by all the people who want to build a better world. What is missing today in our classrooms, families and in the world in general is genuine dialogue. Genuine dialogue in my view, should be the ideal that we should strive for if we want to build a better world.
What sort of audience did you have in mind when writing the book?
Mainly teachers at all levels of education but also all the people who wish to build a truly civilized society.
What’s your current project? What’s next?
My Greek colleagues who have read “Education as Dialogue; Its Prerequisites and its Enemies” insisted that I should translate it into Greek. I have started rewriting it and making some changes and improvements.
What is philosophy of education and why does it matter?
I think philosophy of education is the heart of all educational studies because it addresses the fundamental problems of education and of society. In my opinion this book constitutes the best argument for that question. However, philosophers of education should concentrate more on the ordinary problems of life and avoid all vague or high-sounding language and theories.
Read Marianna Papastephanou's review of Tasos Kazepides' Education as Dialogue.