How to teach our children to be heirs of Zimbabwe …the tyranny of positivism


POSITIVISM is a theory of knowledge which posits that the only knowledge that is valid is that which is observable and can be verified by the physical senses. Intuition and introspection are therefore regarded as invalid sources of knowledge.
It celebrates that it has transcended man’s infantile reasoning that bogged him down in theology and metaphysics, and that man has come of age and does not need to acknowledge the divine or deities and the attendant world view.
Positivists claim that humans are ruled by scientific laws and ‘other worlds’ are not real, they are meaningless because there are no scientific ways to verify their existence, they are vestiges of man’s earlier forms of mental development.
A number of problems arise in the application of such a philosophy because the human is more than flesh and blood, is more than can be observed by the five senses and therefore cannot be too easily packaged into a manageable entity.
The position that once you get rid of the spiritual, consciousness and the complicated ethereal senses, the whole process of dealing with human beings becomes simplified, is fallacious and hazardous.
It is an evil ploy to make humans diminutive in order to control them.
Thus in the context of such a philosophy it became possible for instance, to apply findings from experiments on the behaviour of animals to human behaviour such as in Skinner’s Stimulus Response Theory.
In B.F. Skinner’s experiments, rats were subjected to certain stimuli to encourage particular behaviour tendencies.
Desired responses from the rats were reinforced while the undesirable responses were punished.
This way the behaviour of the rats was controlled and could be predicted.
From these findings it was concluded that human behavior can be controlled and predicted in the same manner.
While it sometimes happens that people can respond to external stimuli as intended, it is not as simple as all that, people have internal mechanisms that influence their decisions, theirs are not robotic responses.
People do not always eat because they are hungry even if food is on the table, they do not always avoid pain, nor do they always go for the pleasurable.
To ignore the internal constituents of the human, culture; the moral, ethical and aesthetic attitudes, values and feelings, that ‘maketh man’ is a fundamental error because it is these that determine man’s behaviour.
Yet this behaviorism of Skinner and colleagues is taught in our departments of education at tertiary and university level without this fundamental critique.
The reliance on external stimuli, is an approach to teaching and learning that depends on extrinsic motivation.
It is this which has landed us in the present quandary in which more than two thirds of our Ordinary Level graduates do not meet our five ‘O’ Levels standard.
These young persons, as we have said in earlier articles, are already piloting nine intelligences before we teach them anything, and they are already developing in all of these intelligences, with or without our assistance.
Without tapping into these intelligences each child comes wired with, we get minimum results.
Without that, children barely scrap through.
There is something special in each individual child, if this is not tapped into, it does not matter how much external stimuli they are bombarded with, it does not work.
With all the extra lessons, the study groups and the internet, nothing changes much because we are starting from outside.
What is needed is intrinsic motivation not extrinsic motivation peddled by the behaviourists.
The tragedy of our situation is that this same tyranny of positivism is controlling the way our teaching and learning instruments are structured.
Teachers/lecturers are required to come up with teaching and learning objectives that are measurable (quantifiable), verifiable by the five senses, in true positivist tradition, they are required to ignore affective objectives because they are not measurable, they cannot be timed, neither can one be as specific as in one, two, three.
Neither are they observable, it is argued.
While it is true that no microscope can view what’s inside the soul, no camera can capture what exists inside a heart, neither can it photograph the patriotism inside a heart, nor can the eye or ear verify that there is love or joy inside the heart, a burning desire for justice for one’s country or an intrinsic yearning for freedom, does that mean these do not exist?
Does it mean they are less potent than the observed ability to identify letters of the alphabet and form words?
History is overflowing with examples of the power of the unseen, the qualitative, the subjective.
Martyrs are not driven by the needs of flesh and blood, but by those of the heart, what resides in the soul.
When people give up their life for a cause, they transcend the biological, they are responding to a self that is defined by higher ideals.
It is such ideals that not only brought back Zimbabwe, but are also responsible for many of mankind’s greatest achievements.
Teaching and learning instruments need to clearly identify the affective objectives, those which are about the moral, ethical and aesthetic, attitudes, values and feelings that the learners are expected to develop in the particular unit of learning.
Not to declare them is to be dishonest because they are there anyway, just conveniently camouflaged.
The positivists would rather we did not declare them so that the status quo remains unchallenged.
Here in Zimbabwe we have to dismantle the colonial, neo-colonial, capitalist status quo and so we have to name what we are destroying, and for this very reason the ideological underpinnings of teaching and learning must be clearly enunciated.
When the History Syllabus 2166 was introduced, it struggled on for some years before it was finally discarded on the pretext that it was complicated.
The truth is that it went against the status quo.
For the first time the students were asked to introspect, to feel, to imagine, and that is dangerous to the positivists, because it unleashes unimaginable and unpredictable power that resides inside each person.
When a child can feel for Zimbabwean peasants under the yoke of Ian Smith, and at the same time empathise with the peasants in Russia and can imagine what it cost them to keep struggling against the yoke of Tsarist dictatorship, then the revolutionary spirit cannot fail to be roused and this, the imperialists cannot bear, it is terrifying.
Thus for the positivists, these kilotons of human power have to be severely curbed by the infuriating prescription to validate only that knowledge which is physically verifiable.
For us, such is a luxury we cannot afford, we need the power inside each child to be mobilized, for the peace of mind of each for they know something is wrong if they are never told the truth and for the progress and advancement ofthe goals of a Great Zimbabwe.
Dr Mahamba is a war veteran and holds a PhD from Havard University. She is currently doing consultancy work.


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