Postmodernism and Education

There are four objects of thinking used in philosophy; those are cosmocentric, theocentric, anthropocentric and logocentric. Cosmocentric means believing that the natural state of our universe should remain as it is, without human attempts to terraform planets for human habitation. In theocentric, God becomes the prime concern. It means that having God or divine being as central aspect of our existence, as opposed to, for instance, anthropocentrism (centres upon man) or existentialism (centres upon the experience of existence). Antropecentric uses human as the object of thinking. It means believing that humans must be considered at the centre of, and above any other aspect of reality. This concept is sometimes known as Humanocentrism. The last object of thinking is logocentric derived from the Greek ‘logos’ for ‘reason’. It is closely related to postmodernism which will be discussed more in this chapter.

Logocentric is a term made popular by the movement in philosophy loosely termed postmodernism and reflects a tendency of systems of thought born out of the Enlightenment era in which truth is objective and unified and singular in nature. Logocentric thinking asserts the objectivity of an external reality, that ‘truth’ is singular and can be discovered using proper ‘scientific’ protocols. It doesn’t mean that logocentric is all about post modernism because postmodernism arises because of the failure of modernism in which empirism, rationalism, and capitalism are dominant.

Post Modernism

Post modernism literally means after ‘after the modernist movement’ while “modern” it self reflects to something  “related to the present”. Postmodernism was originally a reaction to modernism. Largely influenced by the Western European disillusionment induced by World War II, postmodernism tends to refer to a cultural, intellectual, or artistic state lacking a clear central hierarchy or organizing principle and embodying extreme complexity, contradiction, ambiguity, diversity, interconnectedness or interreferentiality, in a way that is often indistinguishable from a parody of itself. It has given rise to charges of fraudulence. Postmodernism is hard to define, because it is a concept that appears in a wide variety of disciplines or areas of study, including art, architecture, music, film, literature, sociology, communications, fashion, and technology. It’s hard to locate it temporally or historically, because it’s not clear exactly when postmodernism begins.

The term postmodern is described by Merriam-Webster as meaning either of, relating to, or being an era after a modern one or of, relating to, or being any of various movements in reaction to modernism that are typically characterized by a return to traditional materials and forms (as in architecture) or by ironic self-reference and absurdity (as in literature), or finally of, relating to, or being a theory that involves a radical reappraisal of modern assumptions about culture, identity, history, or language. The American Heritage Dictionary describes the meaning of the same term as Of or relating to art, architecture, or literature that reacts against earlier modernist principles, as by reintroducing traditional or classical elements of style or by carrying modernist styles or practices to extremes: “It [a roadhouse] is so architecturally interesting . . . with its postmodern wooden booths and sculptural clock” (Ruth Reichl, Cook’s November 1989).

Franchois Lyotard describes the limitation of postmodernism stated as cited by Cherryholmes as following:  Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives. This incredulity is undoubtedly a product of progress in the sciences: but that progress in turn presupposes it. To the obsolescence of the metanarrative apparatus of legitimation corresponds, most notably, the crisis of metaphysical philosophy and of the university institution which in the past relied on it. The narrative function is losing its functors, its great hero, its great dangers, its great voyages, its great goal. It is being dispersed in clouds of narrative language elements–narrative, but also denotative, prescriptive, descriptive, and so on […] Where, after the metanarratives, can legitimacy reside? (1988).

Metanarrative mentioned by Lyotard means a story about a story, encompassing and explaining other ‘little stories’ within totalizing schemes. In critical theory, and particularly postmodernism, a metanarrative (from metanarrative, sometimes also known as a master- or grand narrative) is an abstract idea that is thought to be a comprehensive explanation of historical experience or knowledge. According to John Stephens it “is a global or totalizing cultural narrative schema which orders and explains knowledge and experience“. The prefix meta means “beyond” and is here used to mean “about”, and a narrative is a story.

According to the advocates of postmodernism, metanarratives have lost their power to convince – they are, literally, stories that are told in order to legitimise various versions of “the truth”. With the transition from modern to postmodern, Lyotard proposes that metanarratives should give way to ‘petits récits’, or more modest and “localised” narratives. Borrowing from the works of Wittgenstein and his theory of the “models of discourse”, Lyotard constructs his vision of a progressive politics that is grounded in the cohabitation of a whole range of diverse and always locally legitimated language games. Postmodernists attempt to replace metanarratives by focusing on specific local contexts as well as the diversity of human experience. They argue for the existence of a “multiplicity of theoretical standpoints” rather than grand, all-encompassing theories.

From the limitation mentioned above, there are some points which can be highlighted. Those are:

–          There is a resistance, doubt and skeptic toward metanarrative, that is rational theories which explains why and in what meaning our belief about the statements related to descriptive, normative, and evaluative in which the truth or application is out of local limitations.

–          The doubt toward a metanarrative is developed because of the development of science and technology. For that reason the limitation of the truth and the standardization of the product becomes really flexible and the criteria could be ignored.

–          Nowadays structuralism and positivism seem not to be followed any more by people but they tend to think in more pragmatic way.

–          There are two main points about structuralism. First, basically every elements doesn’t have exact meaning and it is determined by its relation with the other elements related to the situation within. It means that that meaning will be exist in relation to the structure as the system. Second, an action or production done by human will have meaning if the basic system gives the possibility in making it having more meaning.

In postmodernism, there are two main ways to get the knowledge or find the truth known as social constructionism and hermeneutic mode of engagements. These ways reject the concept of empirism and rationalism as the universal ways in knowing something since in postmodernism the individual principle is taken from social processes, like in the use of language and social relationship in general.


Deconstruction famous philosophers are Derrida and Lyotard, whom the first derives his thought from Structuralist, Saussure, and the later from Wittgenstein’s. Since the latter’s thought has been explained in chapter 2, I would like to explain about the origin of Derrida’s thought, that is Saussure’s concept of Signifier and Signified.  To start the explanation, see the figure below:

Saussure’s Schema of Sign

Saussure believes that language is a sign system; it is not merely the naming of things or ideas.  Saussure claims that a linguistic sign is a link between signifier and signified. The signifier refers to the sound pattern, which is not actually a sound but a hearer’s impression of a sound. So, signifier is the word itself that one hears or the sound image that registered in one’s brain. On the other hand, the signified refers to the concept or the idea linked to the sound pattern. When we utter ‘tree’, the idea of the tree is formed in the head. The word and the idea are different from the referent (the actual thing linked to the signifier and signified). We can touch or see the actual thing, that is the tree.  The signifier and the signified together make up the sign. According to Saussure, the link between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary because there is no internal connection between the two. There is no natural reason why particular signifier is related to a particular signified. This is demonstrated b y the differences of languages. For example, when we utter ‘arbor’, we do not refer the word to the idea of a tree in our head. In other words, there is no universal set of ideas. The linguistic system creates the meaning.

The only logical thing from the concept is that the link between particular signifier and particular signified is a social convention. One the language has chosen a signifier to link to a signified, it cannot be freely replaced by any other. For example, it is not as easy as one, two, three, to replace signifier ‘tree’ with ‘stupefy’. It might take years to accustom the use of the word. Saussure makes it a point is that the emphasizing of linguistic object is the sign; the signifier and the signified linked together.

Derrida critic upon the concept is that a signified might refer to another signified. The signified can be adopted from environmental experiences. According to Derrida, meaning is dispersed form word to definition, to word definition, and so on. He also thinks that written form is a condition for language and written form comes first before sound image. The concept of Derrida’s deconstruction is not like when someone writes a book and I want to deconstruct it to show ‘that someone’ should have written the book better. It is more like I do not repair the work for him or her as if the corrections would be a better work. Deconstructive criticism is not intended to suggest a way to make the book finally complete, but to show its necessary incompleteness. Deconstruction is used to show that a work does not adequately address something, not that it should have. The point of deconstruction is to show where something has been omitted, not because of the blindness of the author, not because the critic is smarter or better, but because that is the way things are. There are always things I don’t know, though in a very real way that I don’t know them is part of what I know.

Based on Derrida’s deconstruction theory, we can make changes into the better education by showing and pointing out where in the curriculum something has been omitted and showing the incompleteness of the education system that has been going on in Indonesia.

There are two great philosophers in education discussed in this chapter; they are Ralph Tyler and Benjamin Bloom.

  • Tyler’s curriculum planning (1949)

The basic step of curriculum planning should be emphasized to the developmental of objectives. It is necessary because they are the most critical criteria for guiding all the other activities.  The four basic questions, known as Tyler’s rationale, should be proposed by the curriculum developer are:

  1. What educational purposes should the school seek to attain?

It means that the curriculum developer should define appropriate education objectives, such as knowledge, comprehension, application and so on.  It relates with Bloom’s taxonomy.

  1. What educational experiences should be created in attaining these purposes?

It means that the curriculum developer should introduce useful learning experiences.  It relates with previous curriculum.

  1. How can these educational experiences be organized?

It means that the curriculum developer should maximize the effect by organizing the experiences.  What the weaknesses found from previous curriculum, and what to aspect that should be added for the new curriculum.

  1. How can we determine whether these purposes are being attained?

It means that the curriculum developer should evaluate the process and revise the areas that were not effective.

  • Bloom’s taxonomy (1956)

The term taxonomy in education is used to classify the purposes of education.  The taxonomy of education involves:

  1. Knowledge: remembering previously learned material.
    1. remembering;
    2. memorizing;
    3. recognizing;
    4. recalling identification and
    5. recall of information
  2. Comprehension: the ability to grasp the meaning of material.
    1. interpreting;
    2. translating from one medium to another;
    3. describing in one’s own words;
    4. organization and selection of facts and ideas
  3. Application: ability to use learned material in new and concrete situations.
    1. problem solving;
    2. applying information to produce some result;
    3. use of facts, rules and principles
  4. Analysis: the ability to break down material into its component parts so that its organizational structure may be understood.
    1. subdividing something to show how it is put together;
    2. finding the underlying structure of a communication;
    3. identifying motives;
    4. separation of a whole into component parts
  5. Synthesis: the ability to put parts together to form a new whole.
    1. creating a unique, original product that may be in verbal form or may be a physical object;
    2. combination of ideas to form a new whole
  6. Evaluation: the ability to judge the value of material for a given purpose.
    1. making value decisions about issues;
    2. resolving controversies or differences of opinion;
    3. development of opinions, judgments or decisions

The explanation above refers to a hierarchy of educational objectives, which divides from the simplest behavior to the most complex.

The comparison of Tyler’s and Bloom’s Structural Characteristic

No Tyler’s Bloom’s
1 Curriculum design has a historic characteristic The characteristic of taxonomy is arbitrary
2 Curricular meaning is determined by connection of the steps in the process Meaning of each educational purpose is determined by its connection to others in a system
3 Teacher and student are not the center of curriculum Teacher and student are not the focus
4 Curriculum design is neutral in ideology Taxonomy is neutral in ideology
5 Shows binary opposition in educational discourse Marked by binary opposition

Unfortunately, both Tyler’s (1949) and Bloom’s (1956) has some weaknesses.  First, the concentration to structure weakens the position of human, which are teacher and student.  In fact, they are the main characters which will get aim from education.  Second, getting meaning through binary opposition contains weak point.  Because meaning is never fixed between word and definition, and text only provides the stability of it.   Third, the ideology of both contexts cannot be neutral.  Faucault pointed that curriculum planning and taxonomy can never be independent from history, authority, and interest.