Free Article on Teaching-Led Research

As I mentioned in an update quite a while back, I’ve been working on an article entitled ‘Teaching, In Spite of Teaching Excellence’ that was for a planned special issue of Studies in Philosophy and Education on the theme of ‘Education, in Spite of it All’. Most of the articles that were written for the special issue are now available online:

My own contribution is now available (open access) here:

Matthew Charles, ‘Teaching, In Spite of Excellence: Recovering a Practice of Teaching-Led Research’

Related imageIn line with the theme of the special issue, it is an attempt to move beyond the critique of higher educational reform and consider, in the light of what Emile Bojesen calls a ‘new version of optimism,’ some of the tactical opportunities such reforms may present. As I hope the article makes clear – I say this because one of the peer reviewers criticized the article for seeming to endorse the idea of teaching excellence itself –  the intention was to criticize the TEF as well as the predominant critical response to the TEF, which tended to fixate on the idea of the ‘student as consumer’ and so promote various pedagogical strategies for activating or engaging the student as co-producers or co-creators of their learning. I’ve been interested for a while in how, at a very general level, the critical discussion of students as mere consumers not only risks producing the very passiveness and alienation it objects to but, more specifically, tends to oversimply a more complicated picture of the transformation of English HE, in which the basic model of ‘commodification’ doesn’t fully capture issues related to the price of a degree (because of the capping of fees and because of loan repayments), let alone the value (because of the labour of both waged staff and unwaged learners), and so complicates the mode of consumption inferred from that basic model (if it was ever really valid in the way it has been used to caricature the supposedly passive consumption of commodities). As always, the critical work of Andrew McGettigan is inspirational here (see, most recently, his discussion of the price of undergraduate degrees).

Having sought to unpick the idea of ‘student as consumer’ by suggesting the ways in which theories of human capital are much more concerned with increasing the productivity of investments of time and money (using the work of Bill Readings as a focus in order to concentrate on the discourse of excellence but also to widen the discussion out in relation to teaching and research), the article then proposes an alternative response to what it argues is the rhetorical dominance of ‘research-led teaching’ that follows from this within higher education. Trying to remain perversely optimistic, it puts forward the principle of ‘teaching-led research’ as a tactic for engaging with institutional responses to the TEF.

Walter Benjamin’s The Storyteller: Fiction & Form

The translators and editors of the recently published collection of Walter Benjamin’s fictional and related writings, The Storyteller (Verso, 2016), held the last of their special events last Thursday. I was asked to be a respondent to papers by Sara Salih and Howard Caygill, following introductions by Esther Leslie and Sebastian Truskolaski, and you can listen to the whole event by following this link to the Backdoor Broadcasting Company.


As you can see from these scribbled notes, in responding I attempted to pick up on Esther’s description, in her introduction, of the book’s organization – structured around thematic sections on Dreams, Travel and Play – in terms of a desire to “rescue what needed rescuing” in Benjamin’s writings. In their papers both Sara and Howard picked up on the methodological and philosophical underpinnings of this impulse and the way this connected with the narratological dimensions of Benjamin’s thought (and, more specifically, what both discussed in terms of orality). I was interested in tracing the connections between Sara’s image of Benjamin as a “subterranean gnome” (and how this connected to the mimetic faculty of children) and Howard’s insights into educative function of both Benjamin’s and the editors’ use of Paul Klee’s images. I wondered if one way of connecting these aspects was through Benjamin’s early discussion of the deforming power of Phantasie, which “plays a game of dissolution with its forms” (Selected Writings,  Vol. 1). In this way, I wanted to use the idea of Phantasie to connect the event’s thematic focus – Fiction and Form – with the discussion of play and pedagogy in the final section of the book, and through this to make a claim for what “needed rescuing” in Benjamin’s writings, both methodologically (in terms of Benjamin’s interest in the “teaching value” of stories and images) and historically (in terms of the disciplinary interests that have themselves deformed the Anglo-American reception of his writings to omit or bury their pedagogical concerns).  notes-2

Free Article: Towards a Critique of Educative Violence

I was fortunate to be involved in a symposium, organized by Carrie Paechter and introduced by Michael Rosen, on ‘Water Benjamin, Childhood and Pedagogy’ in the Department of Educational Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London, last summer (July 2015). I believe the papers are going to be published in an upcoming special issue of Pedagogy, Culture and Society, but some are already available online, including Esther Leslie on ‘Colonial and communist pedagogy’ (, Íris Susana Pires Pereira and Brenton Doecke on ‘Storytelling for ordinary, practical purposes (Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Storyteller’)’ (, and a revised version of my own paper. Other speakers at the symposium included Eric L. Tribunella, Gillian Lathey, and Sam Dolbear & Hannah Proctor.

It is worth pointing out that Esther Leslie and Sam Dolbear have also been involved in Verso’s new translation of some of Benjamin’s fictional writings, The Storyteller, which includes two of his reviews of books on children’s educational literature: a negative 1930 review of Alois Jalkotzy’s Märchen und Gegenwart. Das deutsche Volksmärchen und unsere Zeit [Fairy Tales and the Present: The German Folk Tale and Our Time] and a positive 1931 review of numbers 2 and 3 of Tom Siedmann-Freud’s Spielfibel [Play Primer].

25-Tom-Seidmann-Freud-Hurra-wir-rechnen-Spielfibel-No-3_900The first review examines Jalkotzy’s work as an example of a ‘the new pedagogy, the fun-loving reformism’ which Benjamin criticizes as a ‘colonial pedagogy’ because it  regards education within a commodity-producing society as merely the opportunity to sell cultural goods to children, perceived according to child psychology as ‘the exact counterpart to that famous “psychology of primitive peoples” as heaven-sent consumers of European junk wares’ under colonialism (The Storyteller, Verso, 196). In contrast, Benjamin praises the ‘radical pedagogy’ of Tom Siedelmann-Freud’s Spielfibel. Siedelmann-Freud was Sigmund Freud’s niece, Marta, who took the name “Tom”  when she became an artist and illustrator. As well as children’s books such as Kleine Märchen (Little Fairy Tales, 1921), Die Fischreise (The Fish’s Travels, 1923), Buch der Hasengeschichten (Book of Rabbit Stories, 1924), Buch der erfüllten Wünsche (Book of Fulfilled Wishes, 1929), Das Zauberboot (The Magic Boat, 1929), she also published playful and interactive educational books to help children read, write and draw (Benjamin had positively reviewed the first Spielfibel the year before). Esther Leslie picks up on a number of these ideas in her own article for Pedagogy, Culture and Society.

The paper I presented at the Goldsmiths symposium was on ‘Education as Transmissibility’ and in it I tried to develop some of the connections between Benjamin’s early conception of educational transmission and his later writings on the “teaching-value” of art, and in particular radio plays. For reasons of time, the discussion of Benjamin’s radio plays had to be curtailed in the version I presented, and when it came to revising into an article for publication I decided to focus in much more detail on Benjamin’s idea of “educative Gewalt” in the Critique of Violence essay. I still hope to return to the radio broadcasts another time.

In the meantime, the article, ‘Towards a Critique of Educative Violence: Walter Benjamin and “second education”‘ has been published online. The distinction I draw here and elsewhere between concepts of “first” and “second” education in Benjamin’s pedagogy maps onto the distinction between a ‘colonial’ and ‘communist’ or ‘radical’ pedagogy discussed by Esther Leslie in her article. As I discuss in the article, I take the terms “first” and “second” education from his comparison with “first” and “second” technology in the ‘Work of Art’ essay – itself derived from a comparison with “first” and “second” nature in Hegel and Lukács, etc. – which can be traced back via ‘To the Planetarium’ in One-Way Street to the legacy of his earlier writings on education.

Rote_Ruhrarmee_1920My interest in this article was to articulate this distinction in terms not of a contrast between ‘violent’ and ‘peaceful’ modes of educational transmission but rather between two concepts of educational force or violence, a negative, political one versus a positive, revolutionary-theological one:

Although modern systems of mass education are typically defined in their opposition to violence, it has been argued that it is only through an insistent and critical focus upon violence that radical thought can be sustained. This article seeks to take up this challenge in relation to Walter Benjamin’s lesser known writings on education. Benjamin retained throughout his life a deep suspicion about academic institutions and about the pedagogic, social and economic violence implicated in the idea of cultural transmission. He nonetheless remained committed to the possibility of another kind of revolutionary potential inherent to true education and, when he comes to speak of this in his Critique of Violence, , it is remarkable that he describes it as manifesting an educative violence. This article argues that Benjamin’s philosophy works toward a critique of educative violence that results in a distinction between a ‘first’ and ‘second’ kind of education and asks whether destruction might have a positive role to play within pedagogical theories in contrast to current valorisations of creativity and productivity.

Unless you have a subscription to the journal, the article is locked, but you can access a free download by clicking the following link: