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Don’t be an idiotés

The previous blog explored the theoretical shift that occurred between the first and second drafts of Mosston’s seminal book Teaching Physical Education. It argued that in moving away from a hierarchy of teaching styles against which teachers might measure themselves, the spectrum of teaching styles made a 180-degree turn. It moved away from an ideology that hoped to make every child independent in the decision-making process to one that prescribed certain outcomes to different styles of teaching. It moved from a place that positioned teachers as lifelong learners to one that positioned them as end-users of approaches to teaching that almost guaranteed the outcomes that they sought.

This week’s blog explores the idea of bio-pedagogy and argues that we should stop being idiotés and instead be contributing citizens. By engaging in bio-pedagogy (a form of autobiographical inquiry that looks at the links between personhood and pedagogy) the blog argues that we need to think less about doing things as we are expected to do them and more about what, ethically, we think the aims of education should be and then advocate for it.


Volume 3: Teachers, teaching and teacher education in physical education

Paper 66:

Sicilia-Camacho, A. & Fernábdez-Balboa, J-M. (2006/2012) Ethics, politics and bio-pedagogy in physical education teacher education: easing the tension between the self and the group. In D. Kirk (ed.) Physical Education: Volume III. (pp. 391-413) London: Routledge.


My ‘take home’ message – the implications of the research on practice

I’ve been an idiotés for most of my life. I wonder if it has only been more recently that I have been anything but an idotés. I’m not suggesting that I’m a dolt, or dullard or have low mental capacity (although I am sure some of my teachers might have thought of me as such – especially the person who had to mark my A’Level Maths exam). No I’m an idiotés because I’ve been too inward facing in my work.

The ancient Greeks – who bear responsibility for the origins of many of the words we use in modern society – saw an idotés as something or someone completely different to the way we view an idiot. In a society that was focused on the greater good and on the improvement of civic affairs an idiotés was someone who concentrated on their own life and was unconcerned with larger affairs.

So why have I been an idiotés?

Because I have let so many decisions that affect me during my daily life be decided both externally and in advance. Let me explain. When I initially decided on the approach I would use in my lessons I just followed the crowd. I did what everyone else did. When I entered a gymnasium I used it the way that the architect intended and the way I had seen it used in the past and in the way the national curriculum intended. In many ways it was preconfigured and I just followed on meekly behind these decisions. In short I didn’t challenge these expectations.

More recently I have looked at these pre-conditions and challenged them. I have asked questions. What I do have the power to do? What do I believe physical education is there to do? What is my ethical stance on PE? My teaching? What is my fundamental responsibility? Finally, and fundamentally, how do I engage with my civil responsibility to improve society? In other words how I stop being an idiotés and start being a contributing citizen. The ancient Greeks thought that anyone who developed only themselves was decadent and that everyone should be concerned with larger affairs. Has this message changed? Can we only look at our own classrooms and the things we are allowed to do or should we look beyond these?

So what do you, ethically, believe is the purpose of education? Sicilia-Camacho and Fernández-Balboa suggest that perhaps ‘universal dignity for all’ was a good starting point. That regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, nationality, skin colour, religion, political opinion, sexuality, class, wealth, or any other individual or social trait, condition or circumstance everyone has a right to their own personal dignity and that the primary purpose of pedagogy should be the active promotion of universal dignity.

It is only in the last 10 years that I have challenge my original approach to teaching and become a conscientious citizen. Reflection has been key in this process where as a consequence I have changed my pedagogy and begun to learn about things outside of the stories that my teachers told to me. I have started to take up socially responsible ways of teaching considering my learners’ needs and not just my own. However, as I have always argued reflection is not just an end point it is a journey and I am still working to try and change things though my work both inside and outside my classrooms, both with my students and this blog, alongside my work on twitter and in my work with other agencies – with reflection guiding this process.

So are you an idiotés or and am I an idiot for suggesting it? Ethically what do you think the purpose of education is and how many of your decisions are made for you by others before you even get into a classroom? Politically, what can you do about it? What do you want to do about it.


The Paper

Sicilia-Camacho and Fernández-Balboa begin this paper by asking how physical educators – at any level – give meaning to their own pedagogy and how do their personal histories affect that meaning? They suggest that there is an “intimate connection between personhood and pedagogy” and wonder how close we ever get to understanding this. How often do we critically reflect on our lives, especially when such reflection can be difficult and painful? How do we translate our experiences and feelings into words? With the risks inherent in revealing ourselves to others (let alone to the public) in writing are we prepared to take the chance that we might be misjudgedor misinterpreted?

Sicilia-Camacho and Fernández-Balboa suggest that both the reader and the writer gain insights and that they (both) “become more conscious and thoughtful about their role as educators and citizens.”

However, one of the barriers to such writing has been (in addition to the concerns mentioned above) that it has not been seen as being either scientific or objective enough. Some feel that the lines between fact and fiction, true and imagined, and here and there are blurred by the reflective thinking and writing process.

The authors hold that autobiographical accounts are humanising and allow the writer to find his/her voice and identity. It is a search for self and can create highly personal and revealing texts about the author’s lived experiences. They suggest that autobiography explores a number of interesting questions:

  • What is a life?
  • How can we know a life?
  • How can we tell a life?
  • What is the link between a life lived and a life told?
  • How does a life telling connect a culture and its history?
  • How does the reading of a life connect to the telling of a life?
  • Are all lives to be told equally of are some better to tell than others?

Sicilia-Camacho and Fernández-Balboa argue that if these questions are put into the context of pedagogy then they allow us to see someone’s bio-pedagogy. Bio-pedagogy shows the links between pedagogy and personhood. It helps to “capture and explain our life experiences in relation to teaching and learning” and helps the writer to understand, and develop, their pedagogical ethics and politics. In short, I see bio-pedagogy as a way of seeing if you have been an idiotés or a citizen.

An idiotés (as I hope I alluded to in the start of this blog) focuses on him/her self and disregards the wider world. In physical education this means that they teach the way that they want to teach or the way that they are expected to teach and they don’t challenge the rationale behind this decision. Put in Sicilia-Camacho and Fernández-Balboa’s words, “a teacher’s response to a given situation will be influenced not just by contextual circumstances, peer pressures, and/or his/her intellectual resources (or lack of them), but, also, and most importantly, by his/her understanding of ethical and political principles, rights, and responsibilities.”

Sicilia-Camacho and Fernández-Balboa suggests that we need to stop imposing our ‘truths’ on our co-learners (i.e. our students) and undertake the educative process together. Bio-pedagogy can help us to find meaning to our pedagogy and help us to shine a light on the importance of ethics and politics and realise that we are agents of change and not idiotés


What’s next? As part of this series of blogs I propose the following as a way of considering the implications of this research on your teaching- Think, Act, Change (or TAC for short).

Think about findings of the paper – do they resonate with you? Use the comment box below to ask a question, seek clarification, may be challenge the findings.

Act on what you’ve read. What do you believe? Is it your responsibility to make changes or is this just something else that I’ve put on your plate? Is there action to take? If so, what might it be?

Change what you do in response to your thoughts and actions? Is this a personal undertaking? If you want to do something or are looking for help then please let the community know about it.

I wouldn’t expect every paper to get beyond the T or even the A of TAC but if one paper resonates enough to get to C then hopefully all this is worthwhile. Good luck.


Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Vicky Goodyear for her work behind the scene as copy editor and Routledge (part of the Taylor and Francis group) for donating a copy of the Physical Education: Major themes in education series. Their respective help certainly forms a vital part of the production of this blog, and in getting out on time and in a semblance of coherence. 

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On Saturday 03 May at 10:35 Jeremy House said
Much to think about... I think by our very nature 'teachers' are outwardly focused and thus may just escape the Ancient Greek criteria for 'idiotes'. The collective consciousness and beating heart of our profession however may fall closer to the definition. I think that self protection has ruled over self reflection for the past decade in Physical Education which has led (as you have described) to a number of IKEA style DYI pedagogues all promising different outcomes. I great mentor told me early in my career that 'teaching' is what happens in the junction between pedagogy and personality. There is a whole soup of social, emotional and cultural life in which the pedagogy is enacted and cannot operate outside of. I am reading 'bio-pedagogy' in a similar way here. Another great social commentator (and no idiote), Yvon Chouinard, poses a great question (in relation to environmental sustainability, though easily applied here) "if we turn around 180 degrees and take a step forward, are we going forward or backwards?". I think this might be where we are right now, taking a slow 180 degree turn. At a recent conference put on by ECIS PE there was more and more bar stool conversation about a reorientation toward the fundamentals of movement and to human and community flourishing as the question "how can I inspire change?" in my classroom, in the school yard, in the staff room, and in my communities was primary. Essentially the questions posed by Sicilia-Camacho and Fernández-Balboa are concerned with bring attention to the 'soup' in the learning environment, and centering the students and their embodied experience of life within this context. Blogs such as yours help to stimulate this level of thinking and thus act as a civil service to this end. Finally, I think the last thing to consider is that change and innovation generally do not occur in isolation and the issues we are considering here through a physical education lens extend far more widely to the education systems and set of assumptions that underpin them as a whole. The system as a whole needs stimulation to think in more critical ways about the our orientation and practice. AC Grayling speaks on the "disjuncture between the academic (people with skills in multiplying footnotes) and the intellectual (people with skills in shaping cultural life) worlds of today". If we persist in rewarding the former and silencing the latter in schools it will be little surprise when we have people less comfortable operating in bio-pedagogic uncertainty.
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On Sunday 04 May at 13:22 Rob Larivee said
Certainly gives me pause, reflect and explore further of this topic.
Andy Vasily
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On Wednesday 07 May at 01:51 Andy Vasily said
As you did Ash, when I began teaching PE, I methodically went through what I believed to be the way it should be done based on what I had seen, observed, and had experienced myself as a student. As well, there were expectations placed on me in regards to what I should be doing which also shaped the way I taught. As I moved through my career, I began to take notice that not many in leadership positions were really concerned with what was happening in the gym. Provided the teacher showed up on time to teach, the kids were happy and active, and there were no complaints, then PE was serving its so-called function within the school. I consider myself quite lucky to have been in this position because it allowed me to begin to explore, experiment, create, and tinker with my lesson planning and units. For me, simply showing up to teach was not cutting it nor leaving me feeling satisfied with my teaching. Ash, your blog post about bio-pedagogy ties directly into what I feel is the heart and essence of quality teaching. In last week's post (theoretical shift that occurred between the first and second drafts of Mosston’s seminal book Teaching Physical Education), I commented that when I run my workshops I always begin with one of my favorite quotes, "Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You". To me this quote applies even more perfectly to this week's blog post on bio-pedagogy. In my opinion, personhood and pedagogy are inseparable. Like it or not, the person that we have come to be absolutely plays a pivotal role in how we teach. Years ago when I came to the realization that not many leaders or fellow teachers gave a rat's ass about what was going on in the gym, something kicked into gear within me. As I explored ways to be a better teacher and to provide a more stimulating experience for my learners, I also began to realize that it was OK to be me. I began to form better relationships with my students and let who I am as a person come out in my teaching. I had no mentors showing me the way. Reflection began to play more and more an important role in continuing to define my teaching. My personhood (me, my thoughts, my past experiences, my failures, my fears, my strengths, my hopes, my goals, my relationships, my weaknesses etc.) and my pedagogy are inexorably linked and continue to define and shape who I am as a parent, husband, friend, and educator.

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