Barnett Knowing and Becoming in the Higher Education Curriculum

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Vol. 34, No. 4, June 2009, 429–440

ISSN 0307-5079 print/ISSN 1470-174X online © 2009 Society for Research into Higher Education DOI: 10.1080/03075070902771978

Knowing and becoming in the higher education curriculum

Ronald Barnett*

Emeritus Professor of Higher Education, Institute of Education, London, UK

Taylor and Francis Ltd CSHE_A_377367.sgm 10.1080/03075070902771978 Studies in Higher Education 0307-5079 (print)/1470-174X (online) Original Article 2009 Taylor & Francis 34 4 000000June 2009 RonaldBarnett

If a curriculum in higher education is understood to be an educational vehicle to promote a student’s development, and if a curriculum in higher education is also understood to be built in large part around a project of knowledge, then the issue arises as to the links between knowledge and student being and becoming. A distinction is made here between knowing as such and coming to know, with the focus on the latter. It is argued that the process of coming to know can be edifying: through the challenges of engaging over time with disciplines and their embedded standards, worthwhile dispositions and qualities may develop, the worthwhileness arising through the formation of ‘epistemic virtues’. Examples of such dispositions and qualities are identified, with differences between dispositions, on the one hand, and qualities, on the other hand, being observed. Educational implications of understanding the nurturing of student being in this way are sketched, with a set of 10 principles offered for curricula and pedagogy. It is suggested, finally, that the clarifying of the relationship between knowing and being is not only a value-laden but also a pressing matter.


We may take a curriculum in higher education to be a pedagogic vehicle for effecting changes in human beings through particular kinds of encounter with knowledge. Straightaway, such a statement invites questions as to: (1) the kinds of changes in human beings that might characteristically be sought in an educational process termed ‘higher education’, and (2) the ‘particular kinds of encounter with knowledge’ that might engender the sought-for changes in (1). In this identification of these two issues, issue (1) is prior to issue (2): we cannot determine the particular kinds of encounter with knowledge that are likely to be effective until we have determined the kinds of changes that we might be seeking to engender.

These matters may seem formal and even abstract, yet they raise perhaps the most profound issues facing higher education today. Putting the matter crudely, these two issues may be restated in the form of questions: ‘what should we teach?’ and ‘how should we teach?’ However, such reformulations would be crude: these questions would both point us towards specific kinds of cognitive material on the one hand and towards particular kinds of teaching method on the other hand. That the issues in front of us can be reduced to such mundane dimensions is to be avoided.

Indeed, our task is none other than beginning to develop an educational theory of perhaps the fundamental challenge in higher education. By ‘educational theory’, I mean it here in its former sense of an attempt to provide a coherent set of high-level ideas as to the ends that educational processes should be serving and the general character


of the educational processes oriented towards fulfilling those ends (Long 2008). In other words, I am not attempting to undertake a quasi-empirical inquiry. This article is not, therefore, situated as such in the sociology of education and the work (associated especially with that of Bernstein) charting the de facto constitution of, and the rules governing, pedagogy and curriculum and their boundaries, significant as that field is. Rather, the task before us is essentially a philosophical task, and it takes the form of social philosophy. At its heart lies an attempt to specify educational goals and to deter-mine the necessary implications – if any – for pedagogical and curricula processes.

This article, accordingly, alights on a number of concepts and makes some concep-tual distinctions, and it goes on – on that basis – to offer a number of educational principles to assist the shaping of curricula that might help positively to encourage students’ becoming. The extent to which these concepts and ideas hold water and provide resources for action would have to be judged partly through empirical research. It is likely that the concepts and principles developed here would play out differently in different countries, and across different institutions and disciplines.

Prospects of knowledge

Young has recently urged a research agenda of ‘recovering knowledge’ (2008). That such a proposal holds water anywhere in educational settings should surely be an occasion for at least one raised eyebrow, but Young’s plea has much on its side. More than that, in the context of our story here, we can observe that such a move is needed even in relation to ‘higher education’. This should be felt to be strange for surely higher education, at least, has to be ineradicably tied to knowledge? It is the case, however, that knowledge has been increasingly absent of late in debate over higher education. The Dearing Report (National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education 1997), for example, contains little mention of knowledge as a major component within the curriculum.

How might we account for this near disappearance of knowledge from debate about higher education? As with all such discursive shifts, we have to look to a combi-nation of influences at work. On the one hand, in public policy, the student has been constructed as an acting being rather than a cognitive being. Arguably, this has paid off for we have seen over the last 30 years or so – in the UK at least – the emergence of what might be termed ‘the performative student’ (cf. Lyotard 1984). This student is replete with ‘transferable skills’, contemplates with equanimity the prospect of multiple careers in the lifespan, is entrepreneurial and has an eye to the main chance, and possesses a breezy self-confidence in facing the unpredictability that characterizes contemporary life. Such a shift heralds a transformation not only in what we take a student (and a graduate) to be but also in what students have actually become.

From knowing to doing: this move lies at the centre of this new sense of the being of the student. In the process, knowledge has receded from the frontline of what is to count as ‘higher education’. In an Internet age, even where it retains a presence, knowledge as such dwindles: now what is at issue is a student’s ability to gain information from the databases and much less the student’s own mastery of a knowl-edge field. The mantra of ‘learning how to learn’ arises (National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education 1997). Knowledge recedes from view.

If the rise of the performative student – in rhetoric and in fact – heralds a diminu-tion of the place of knowledge as an educadiminu-tional interest, a separate diminudiminu-tion of the place of knowledge may be detected in the public understanding of knowledge itself.


Here, again, a complex of views comes into play. There is, firstly, a sense that knowl-edge is obscure and strange and its possession difficult and, thereby, somehow elitist. Such a view contains two illicit moves: firstly, a conflation of the felt strangeness of knowledge and its acquisition; and secondly, the conflation of the attainment of under-standing (of knowledge) and the value placed on that underunder-standing (as ‘elitist’). Still, despite its muddle-headedness, such a view is surely readily apparent. It lurks in the view that knowledge is ‘socially constructed’, a view that often carries the silent ‘only’ or ‘merely’ before the ‘socially constructed’. And it lurks in the antipathy – at least in the UK – towards intellectuals. As Isaiah Berlin observed, the British have never had an intelligentsia. Knowledge and sheer knowing have come to be seen as a barrier to social cohesion and equity. In his explorations of knowledge and power, Foucault (1980) was in effect exploring the public aphorism precisely that ‘knowledge is power’. And so knowledge as a public project has come to be repudiated in the UK at least.

Here, knowledge once furnished a ‘grand narrative’, offering ways forward to a social enlightenment and progress. Now, after various technological disasters and issues – such as the intrusion of the pharmaceutical companies into academic knowl-edge production and fears about nuclear energy, climate change and the harming of ecological systems – the public value of science itself is doubted. Again, there are weaknesses in the argument, in particular, in the elision of science and technology. But the perceptions are real enough for all that. For formal backing for these views, those unlikely partners, Habermas and Foucault, have both been called into the lists.

Knowledge, then, has come in for a hard time, both as an educational aim and as a matter of public enterprise. As a result, both higher education and the wider society have come to downplay knowledge. Forty years ago, the American sociologist, Nisbet (1971), noted the ‘decline of the academic dogma’, where the dogma in question was indeed knowledge. So the attack on knowledge is far from new; it goes back at least several hundred years to Galileo (who was forced by the religious authorities to recant his scientific findings) if not two thousand years to Socrates (who was obliged by the authorities to consume hemlock). Yet, perhaps the form of the contemporary vulner-ability of science is new. On the one hand, in a technologically rich and changing world, a sense emerges that knowledge cannot provide much in the way of the core of a sound education for a world of incessant unpredictability; instead, a much wider form of human being is called for. On the other hand, a sense arises that academic knowledge is suspect, if not in its form, then at least in its internal interests.

These two charges against knowledge – the one pedagogical and the other ethical – have been brought together in a way, in the critique mounted by Gibbons and his associates (Gibbons et al. 1994) over the past decade. This is the critique that has spawned the well-known mode 2 conception of knowledge, the argument being that – alongside conventional academic propositional knowledge (mode 1) – the contemporary world is bringing forth a new kind of knowledge that is interdisciplinary, team-based and short-lived (with the multidisciplinary teams somewhat ephemeral), and that engages directly with practical problems in the field. There are also hints of a more value-laden view to the effect that not only is mode 2 knowledge supplanting mode 1 knowledge in its significance for knowledge production but that this is a desirable situation: for mode 1 read stuffiness; for mode 2, read avant-garde and glitzy.

We do not have to delve into the intrinsic validity of the mode 2 thesis here. What we can note, though, are two things. Firstly, driving up mode 2 knowledge as especially important in the pedagogical context is liable unduly to simplify matters. In the modern


world, there is neither just one mode nor even just two modes of knowledge. Even in the literature of the West, there are extensive references to tacit knowledge, process knowledge, knowing-how and practical knowledge. Additionally, categories such as the ‘mysterious’, the ‘spiritual’ and the ‘magical’ remind us of categories of knowledge embedded in Eastern and African cultures. But we are just beginning perhaps to see boundaries dissolve between these ideas of knowledge across cultures: witness the reaffirmation of ‘wisdom’ as a worthwhile concept, and the identification of ‘mystical anthropology’ (McIntosh 1998) as a form of knowing in the West.

So the mode 2 thesis is at best a partial view of knowledge. Further, we can say that it is educationally unhelpful, since any undue attention that it receives will be liable to reduce the forms of student being that come into view as pedagogic goals. It is not so much a matter of the intrinsic validity of the mode 2 thesis but more a matter of the idea that there could be just two modes of knowledge. If, as might fairly be contended, there are numerous ways of coming into a valid relationship with the world, and so of knowing the world, then there are multiple bases on which the forma-tion of students might be built.

Knowing, not just knowledge

This is not the occasion to attempt a classification of valid ways of knowing the world. What we need to observe for the argument here are two distinctions. Firstly, we should distinguish between knowledge and knowing. Knowledge inhabits what Popper called World III, independent of things in the world (World I) and ideas about the world that furnish people’s minds (World II). For Popper (1975), it was World III that was important in understanding the world, for it was that that constitutes objective knowl-edge. Wanting to drive up the significance and substance of ‘Knowledge’ with a capital K, as it were, Popper implicitly downgraded the mind and ideas developed and held in the mind. But from a pedagogical point of view, it is precisely the mind, and ideas in the mind, that the educator is wanting to see develop, not knowledge as such. Here, then, lies our first distinction at this point, between knowledge (existing as a collectively attested set of understandings in the world) and knowing (an individual’s personal hold on the world).

The second distinction to be made here is that between knowledge of the truth and coming to know the truth. Again, this is crucial from a pedagogical point of view. Both cognitive situations are important to the educator, but they raise quite different consid-erations. On the one hand, there is the issue as to what a student knows and the related issue of the grounds for the student’s claim to know. It is these cognitive situations that characteristically form the basis for assessment, especially summative assess-ment. On the other hand, there is the issue as to how the student reaches that state of knowing. How is it that a student comes to know the truth? By what pedagogical processes might a student – whose initial state of understanding might be rudimentary or even opinionated – be brought into a state of forming well-founded claims about the world? These latter considerations are precisely the matters that come into play so far as pedagogy is concerned, for pedagogy may be construed as the formation of a set of principles upon which teachers can assist students in moving effectively and efficiently from a relative state of ignorance to a state of well-found knowing.

On the basis of these two distinctions, we can make a further set of observations. Firstly, it has long been held – from the Greeks onwards – that knowing (as a cognitive state) the world is edifying (cf. Masschelein 2000); and it is edifying partly through


the nature of coming to know the world. That is to say, coming to know the world is uplifting; the process of knowing brings forward personally worthwhile attributes. Knowing has ethical properties. It is in this relationship between knowing and being that much of the force of the idea of liberal education lies.

The idea of liberal education is notoriously ambiguous; and two of its senses are relevant to our story here. On the one hand, liberal education contains the idea that the attainment of true knowledge brings a freeing from the world. Through knowledge one is no longer subject to the world and its dogmas, but now has achieved some kind of distancing from and even control over the world. In Marxist and neo-Marxist versions, this view goes further, claiming that knowledge brings a freeing from illusion, from ideology. This set of claims has been important in education for out of it has arisen the suggestion that education pursued with these ideas in view may have

emancipatory properties.

On the other hand, liberal education may separately point to the processes by which one achieves this state of emancipated nirvana in coming to live by the light of truth. In this view, the pedagogical process becomes crucial, for here the claim is that the acts of and processes necessarily required in coming into a secure relationship with knowledge themselves have educational effects. A key issue then arises: how might it be that the processes of attaining knowledge can have such desirable and profound effects? Coming to know brings forward desirable human qualities as distinct from knowing itself. It is as if the journey is at least if not more important than the arrival. It is this set of ideas on which I want to focus in the rest of this article; the idea that the processes of coming to know can have worthwhile educa-tional effects in themselves.

Dispositions and qualities

If the claims that we have just been looking at are to hold water, we would need to give some kind of account of the aspects of human being that are likely to come into play in such processes of coming-to-know. I want to come at this matter by distin-guishing between ‘dispositions’ and ‘qualities’ (Barnett 2007).


I take dispositions to be those tendencies of human beings to engage in some way with the world around them. Dispositions do not merely supply energy; they are forms of energy. Dispositions furnish a will – of various kinds. Here are some dispositions that efforts to come to know the world may call for:

● a will to learn;

● a will to engage;

● a preparedness to listen;

● a preparedness to explore, to hold oneself out to new experiences;

● a determination to keep going forward.


Qualities are the manifestations of dispositions in the world. They give colour and definition to dispositions. As individuals make their way in the world, according to


their dispositions, so they exhibit various qualities. The qualities characterize an indi-vidual; they are the individual’s character. Here are some qualities that may especially be engendered through one’s efforts to come seriously to know the world: courage, resilience, carefulness, integrity, self-discipline, restraint, respect for others, openness, generosity, authenticity.

Dispositions and qualities compared

As stated, dispositions form human beings in a fundamental way. They provide the modes in which human beings each take up intentional stances towards the world. They supply the possibilities for going forward, for engaging with the world. They generate a dynamic relationship between human beings and the world. They not only merely mark off human beings from inert substances, but also from animals (so far as we know). Through their dispositions, human beings orient themselves to, and engage with, the world in particular ways. Through their dispositions, human beings take on human being as such.

If dispositions provide being, qualities provide character; literally so, in a sense, for qualities provide character to a person’s dispositions. A student has a will to learn, but how do they exemplify this will? Do they exemplify it carefully, with respect for others encountered on the way and with resilience when things get tough, or is their will to learn exhibited in a cavalier way, is this will impervious to others (who may even be trying to help), and does it turn out to be fragile under pressure?

On this view, therefore, dispositions are fundamental in that it is they that supply the energy, the wherewithal to press on and to keep going; to engage with the world in some way. Qualities are secondary, in that it is they that characterize the actual form taken by the dispositions as they are carried into the world with all its challenges. Even so, dispositions cannot show themselves in the world unless they are accompanied by qualities; to that extent, the two aspects of human being take in each other’s washing. While there are such differences between dispositions and qualities, they have in common that they are both facets of human being that are necessarily implicated in a pedagogical relationship in higher education. For higher education calls for an authen-tic appropriation of knowledge on the part of the learner; the learner has to own his or her own encounters with knowledge. This is what is meant, in part, by the idea of ‘understanding’. This apparently simple term is full of challenges to the educator in higher education, for it raises profound issues as to the forms of human being that a genuine understanding calls for.

Just what are the dispositions and qualities that are required in order to attain a proper ‘understanding’? The short answer to this question is: those dispositions and qualities that are themselves characteristic of the student field(s) of study. In other words, we may hypothesize that different intellectual and professional fields call for particular mixes of dispositions and qualities. That in turn raises empirical questions that we cannot pursue. But there are more general matters that have to claim our attention here.

Knowing and becoming

If there is any substance in what I have said, the prospect opens that there is a rela-tionship between knowledge and being. Or, rather, to pick up an earlier distinction, the prospect opens between coming to know or knowing, on the one hand, and being, on


the other hand. For the suggestion – it is no more than that at present – is that the process of coming to know has person-forming properties. So the prospect opening before us, more strictly, is that knowing has implications for becoming. And the specific suggestion here has been that those implications may be understood in terms of the formation of the dispositions and qualities characteristic of the practices in the different fields of knowledge.

To put it in another way, my suggestion is that coming to know has a propensity to encourage the formation of ‘epistemic virtues’ (Brady and Pritchard 2003). The dispositions and qualities that we encountered earlier may be seen as examples of epistemic virtues. A deep and personal encounter with knowledge calls for and helps to nourish certain ethically worthwhile forms of human being. In turn, a programme of study in higher education may be seen as an educational device for bringing on these epistemic virtues in an effective and efficient way. That is to say, an individual could effect such self-transformations as an autodidact; but a well-orchestrated course of study in higher education at least has this prospect before it: that it can engender the formation of epistemic virtue; which is to say virtue itself.

We may note that it is not unusual, on the occasion of a university graduation cere-mony, for the proud graduate to say to her or his equally proud parents in front of a key tutor that ‘this course has changed my life’. They do not characteristically say that ‘I acquired lots of knowledge on this course’ or ‘I gained many new skills’. We can only make sense of such an observation on the part of the student if we invoke concepts such as being and becoming: through the student’s course of study, their being was transformed. Indeed, we might even say that they became a new self. Their knowing endeavours brought forth a process of becoming, of epistemic becoming. And so there is this extraordinary and intimate relationship between knowing and becoming.

We are entitled to use the term ‘extraordinary’ since, despite the idea having been present for two thousand years, and its having formed much of the basis of the idea of liberal education, still we have little insight into this relationship. I am not aware of the matter having been of serious interest in studies on higher education; and it has barely seen the light in the philosophy of education literature (discussions in the literature over the concept of ‘Bildung’ are perhaps a rare example: e.g. Løvlie, Mortensen, and Nordenbo [2003], but, even there, my sense is that the precise matter that I am raising has seldom been raised).

The matter is simply this: how can it be that a serious encounter with knowledge can have implications for human being itself? How, in this sense, is it that epistemol-ogy has ontological implications? To what extent is this a philosophical matter and to what extent might it be an empirical matter? Certainly, there are empirical aspects worthy of examination: for example, characteristically, how might the fields of study across disciplines and vocational areas differ as to the set and weight of dispositions and qualities that they are likely to engender? But there remain major philosophical issues as to what is to count as an epistemic virtue, and the relationships between any such epistemic virtues so identified. For example, to return to our earlier lists, what might be the relationship between the dispositions of having ‘a will to learn’ and having ‘a will to engage’? And what, too, might be the relationships between the qual-ities of ‘courage’ and ‘resilience’, or, say, between ‘self-discipline’ and ‘restraint’?

But then the further question arises: are the lists put up earlier complete? For example, so far as the dispositions are concerned, perhaps ‘a will to speak’ might be added, for it may be contended that unless the student develops her (or his) voice and


has a willingness to speak, her (or his) becoming may be unduly limited. Students should not be permitted to construct themselves into an ‘easy rider’ mode, riding on the back, so to speak, of the engagements and happenings opened up by other more adventurous souls in the class. And, so far as the qualities are concerned, it might be felt that, say, ‘intellectual humility’ should be added to the qualities in the earlier list. Through intellectual humility, one is as severe on one’s own intellectual efforts as those of others. Through intellectual humility, too, one allows one’s intellectual efforts to speak for themselves rather than unduly promoting them for and by oneself. These possibilities and questions serve merely to indicate that the specification of worthwhile dispositions and qualities is inherently controversial. One reason for this situation, to return to our main theme, is that the identification of worthwhile disposi-tions and qualities raises both ethical and epistemological issues; which is to say that the matter is fundamentally philosophical in character. On the one hand, there is the issue as to which dispositions and qualities are worthwhile. In turn, this raises issues as to the concept of worthwhileness in the context of higher education. On the other hand, there is the issue – touched on earlier – as to the conceptual relationships between knowledge and knowing on the one side, and student formation on the other side.

I shall avoid the first issue here and instead will offer a brief comment on the second issue. My observation here concerns the nature of disciplines. Here, I use the term ‘discipline’ with a small ‘d’ as it were; that is to say, in the spirit of Bourdieu (1998), as denoting broad fields of intellectual and/or professional endeavour. These fields have been built up over time through epistemic communities and, characteristi-cally where they appear in higher education, have an underpinning in a research liter-ature. Such fields are identifiable in their having their own key concepts, truth criteria and forms of life, for example, in their modes of reason and judgement. This is to say that they have their own standards embedded in them. In turn, such fields produce a measure of strangeness; they offer perspectives on the world not ordinarily available. Seen in this way, ‘disciplines’ are aptly named. They call for discipline on the part of those who are trying to work within them. An engagement with and in a discipline requires the formation of a mode of life characterized by an attention to certain rules of going on. This is – in other words – to observe that disciplines have ‘standards’ written into them, the relevant standards appertaining to the practices and their realization that mark out each field.

It is here, through the standards that characterize each discipline, that the forma-tion of disposiforma-tions and qualities comes about. There is, though, a fundamental differ-ence here between dispositions and qualities (which is additional to the differdiffer-ences that we observed earlier). The dispositions are universal. That is to say they are characteristic of any disciplinary field. Each and every disciplinary field – if a student is to make progress – requires the formation of dispositions, such as a will to learn, a will to engage, a preparedness to listen, a preparedness to explore and to hold oneself out to new experiences, and a determination to keep going forward. Unless disposi-tions such as these come to be formed in the student, the student cannot make sustained and significant progress. There is a tight logic at work here, therefore.

With qualities, however, matters are slightly different. Qualities are more singular in character. We can still say that dispositions call for the qualities that we identified earlier, such as those of courage, resilience, carefulness, integrity, self-discipline, restraint, respect for others, openness and generosity. However, the extent to which each of these qualities is present will vary across the disciplines. A discipline, as a


collective field of endeavour, itself developed over time through critical engagement both with the world and across teams and individuals, will – I think – call for all of the qualities just evinced. But their force and their priority will differ, discipline by discipline. Also, even within a single disciplinary formation, individuals will vary as to the inflexions with which they interpret the encouragements to take on different qualities. So there is a logic at work here, but it is a somewhat loose logic, as we may term it.

We have here, it may just be, the beginnings of an explanation for that phenome-non of the graduate remarking that ‘this course has changed my life’. For the process of coming to know in a serious way – not in a dilettante way – through an encounter with one or more disciplines (which may be more or less practical and/or theoretical) encourages the formation of what I have been terming epistemic virtues, namely certain dispositions and qualities. What is before us, therefore, is none other than the formation of human being itself. And this formation arises out of there being standards embedded in the forms of life into which students are being invited to enter. There are differences across the disciplines in that they characteristically invite a particular mix of qualities, for the different forms of knowing in question call for different forms of engagement on the part of the would-be knower. The dispositions, on the other hand, are universal. Any discipline worth its presence in higher education calls for each student to form the wherewithal to keep going, to keep pressing on and to have a dynamic structure of being.

This being, this becoming, comes about, it will be noticed, through the process of coming to know and to understand. That is to say, to pick up an earlier distinction, the very process of coming to know has educational properties irrespective of actually reaching a position of knowing itself. The latter itself will doubtless also have educa-tional properties, but in this article I am concerned to unravel the structure of coming to know itself. The pedagogical process itself has virtuous possibilities, independently of any endpoint that the student may reach.

Curricula and pedagogical implications

In broad terms, what might be the implications of these reflections for curricula and pedagogy in higher education? Clearly, from the account given here, especially as to the disciplinary wearing of qualities (as distinct from dispositions), only some general principles can be essayed.

My basic claim in this article has been that knowledge – and more specifically the process of coming to know and to form an understanding (whether theoretical or more practical) – has implications for the student’s being. To put it more formally, epistemology and ontology are irreducible to each other but are interlinked. Here, in this article, we have focused on the influences of knowledge on being, but, in the context of higher education in particular, there is also a reciprocal case to be made whereby being can affect knowing itself; the direction of travel can flow from ontol-ogy to epistemolontol-ogy. But that is a separate case for another day. Seen in this way, the questions in front of us are straightforward: what kinds of curricula and what kinds of

pedagogies are likely to elicit the formation of the kinds of (epistemologically linked) dispositions and qualities – the epistemic virtues that we identified earlier?

The questions follow naturally from the argument here, but it is worth noting that the very asking of the questions shapes the ground of the inquiry. For the questions imply that the idea – that the acquisition of knowledge can form a major part of the


requisite learning – is bound to be inadequate. If the kinds of epistemic virtues earlier identified are to be fashioned, then curricula and pedagogy have to be more than a matter of an encounter with knowledge. To say here that curricula and pedagogy have also to be concerned with skills and attitudes is by the way; what is in question here is the formation of epistemic (that is, knowledge based) dispositions and qualities.

So far as curricula are concerned, the following principles form themselves at least as candidates for consideration, namely that curricula should:

(1) be sufficiently demanding, such that ‘resilience’ may form;

(2) offer contrasting insights and perspectives, such that ‘openness’ may develop; (3) require a continual presence and commitment (even through course regula-tions) on the part of the student, such that ‘self-discipline’ may come about; (4) contain sufficient space and spaces, such that ‘authenticity’ and ‘integrity’ are

likely to unfold.

In turn, so far as pedagogy is concerned, the following principles form themselves, namely that pedagogies should:

(5) require students to engage with each other, such that ‘respect for others’, ‘generosity’ and a ‘preparedness to listen’ might be engendered;

(6) make explicit the relevant standards such that ‘carefulness’ and ‘restraint’ might ensue;

(7) be encouraging, such that a student might develop the ‘preparedness to keep going forward’ and ‘hold (herself) out to new experiences’;

(8) enthuse the students, giving them new spirit, and so usher forth their ‘will to learn’;

(9) require students to put forward their own profferings in order that the ‘courage’ to take up a position and stake a claim might be developed;

(10)require students to give of themselves and be active in and towards the situa-tions that they find themselves in and so develop ‘a will to engage’.

A majority of these principles focus on pedagogy as distinct from the curricula. This isn’t happenstance. It is in the immediate relationship between teacher and taught that the aspects of human being in question here are likely to be formed, as distinct from the mediate relationship between a student and the curriculum which he/she experi-ences. Certainly, the student can and should take up her (or his) own stances towards the curriculum and make it her (or his) own to some extent, so that there is a crucial distinction between the curriculum as approved by the university (and other relevant authorities) and the curriculum as experienced by the student. But it is the pedagogical relationship that actively works (or not) to elicit the dispositions and qualities that in turn furnish the wherewithal for the student to appropriate the curriculum in ways meaningful to her (or him).


We noted earlier that, for some three decades or more, there has developed an agenda of ‘skills’ in higher education. As a result, western universities have slid almost imper-ceptibly from a dogma of knowledge (as such) to a dogma of skills: the knowing student has been replaced by the performative student. There is a legitimation of this


educational project. The rationale is that, in a changing world characterized by a global economy, a project of knowledge is insufficient as an educational ordering. Indeed, on this perception, it is not at all clear that knowledge per se has anything to offer educationally (for knowledge is soon ‘out of date’). What are required instead are capabilities with which the graduate can engage purposively with the world.

As I suggested, this move, which has been nothing less than a largely unnoticed revolution in higher education, can be understood as the exchange of one dogma for another: from knowledge to skills. Even if both moments are held together, still they are unstable; they will topple over. A third pillar is required; and here enters the idea – which has formed the core of this article – that of being.

Being comes into these reflections in this way. The world of change is not merely

complex; it is supercomplex. That is to say, the world not merely presents with a surfeit of data and entities and messages that overwhelm our systems, personal and institutional (such is ‘complexity’), but the world is such that we can no longer be sure how even to describe the world that faces us. It is a world that is already replete with manifold interpretations.

In turn, this world presents us with problems of being. Who we are, how we are to live with the world and with each other, how we are even to know the world: all these matters are contested. A world of supercomplexity permits us no way of securely determining these matters; and this epistemological reflection has ontological impli-cations. The concept of ‘uncertainty’ – one of the key concepts in understanding supercomplexity – underscores this point for it looks in two directions. It is epistemo-logical in character (pointing to limitations in our knowledge) and it is ontoepistemo-logical (pointing to moments of insecurity or even anxiety as being is dislocated).

In such a world, in which all significant matters have become inherently disputable (there is no retreat to a world of secure categories), a genuine higher education cannot content itself with a project either of knowledge or of skills, or even of both. It has to do with being, for it is being that is fundamentally challenged in and by a world of supercomplexity. Neither knowledge nor skills can furnish the wherewithal to form persons adequate to such a situation: on the one hand, knowledge will not just be out of date, but will always be insufficient to describe the novel and unstable situations that present themselves; on the other hand, skills are always addressed to known situations, and cannot be addressed to unforeseen (and unforeseeable) situations. So (human) being itself has to come into view, for the fundamental problem now becomes: how is one to live amid supercomplexity?

Our explorations in this article suggest a particular set of considerations; namely, that the kind of discipline-based knowledge that characteristically forms the basis for higher education could help to form dispositions and qualities that offer a form of human being that just may be adequate to a situation of supercomplexity.


I have tried to show that it may be possible to sustain an argument to the effect that knowing can influence being; and influence it for the better. Through one’s knowing efforts, one’s being may be enhanced. It follows that the matter of the relationship between knowledge and the curriculum (a matter taken up elsewhere in this issue) is more than merely a matter of the relationship between knowledge and the curriculum per se. I have advanced this thesis through an argument hinged on what I have termed ‘dispositions’ and ‘qualities’ – which I have distinguished. I have gone on to


indicate the curricula and pedagogical implications of such a thesis. I have ended this article by suggesting that the thesis has wider implications than it merely suggesting a new project for higher education, for it may help to point the way towards the elic-itation of modes of human being that may be particularly appropriate for an age of supercomplexity.

Here, then, lie profound challenges for the curriculum, that of engaging both with being and with a world of supercomplexity. Knowledge and skills are not redundant but they need to be augumented with dispositions and qualities, both of which – given principled curricula and pedagogies – may be enhanced through adept processes of knowing and understanding. Knowing and being (and becoming) are linked – but in ways that we have barely begun to comprehend. This comprehension cannot itself simply be a technical matter, or even purely a philosophical matter, for working out the connection between knowing and being/becoming requires a thinking through of the kinds of human being that we want our students to become; and that is partly a matter of our value choices. This is a profoundly difficult task. Time, however, may not be on our side.


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