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Philosophy of Education in the Age of DAO

In recent months, there has been an influx of developers and thinkers who are on a mission to bring decentralized technology to the educational field. This is extremely exciting as the world of education is often viewed through a centralized lens, where teachers, schools, universities, and governments are in charge of how curriculums form, how exams are marked, and how degrees and certificates are distributed. To see the blockchain and web3 space tackle this is truly fascinating.

With this in mind, I have decided to write an overview of some of the philosophers of education who I find particularly interesting, and who I think might be good for people in this space to keep in mind.

John Dewey — Social & Democratic Education

John Dewey is by far the most famous philosopher on this list. He is a highly influential philosopher who has had a lasting effect on how teaching is handled in this day and age.

It would take far too long to explore all of Dewey’s ideas when it comes to education, but the one that stands out for me is how he views learning centres as having a responsibility to socially orient their pupils. In particular, one of Dewey’s core beliefs about education is that it must foster democratic activity, teaching students that they can (and must) exercise their democratic abilities. In his words: “Democracy and the one, ultimate, ethical ideal of humanity are to my mind synonymous”.

Dewey believed that students should be instilled with an acute awareness of their place in the social and political landscape, and how they can use their own influence and opinions to change the world in the way they best see fit. This means that schools must work towards showing pupils how to command themselves around others, as interpersonal relationships are the bedrock of any society. We see this through how schools encourage group work, often by telling us that we will need to learn how to work as a team when we grow up.

I imagine Dewey would love the idea of an educational DAO, as these are institutions that not only encourage students to vote on decisions, but require them to vote. Within DAOs, students are given a voice. This is important as Dewey would argue that voting within an educational institution would foster students to vote more in other parts of their lives. Voting promotes individual power, which is huge for Dewey.

To further align with Dewey’s ideas on education, it may even be best for DAOs to not only teach the subjects they (and their students are interested in), but to also focus on how to successfully onboard students into such an organisation where they learn how to congregate and position themselves within a largely unstructured social environment. Remember, true DAOs have no hierarchies, and so there are no real authority figures– everybody is equal. This means DAOs may need to focus on explaining to students how they should go about communicating and interacting with others. It sounds easy in theory, but DAOs can be daunting for the simple fact that they do not have a social structure, which is very much unlike practically every other institution in the West. Usually, we can appeal to authority when we are confused, but DAOs remove that option. There is no real way around this, other than to show students that they do not need to follow the authority of anybody other than the autonomous organisation as a whole, along with their own individual beliefs and intentions.

Sanford Goldberg — Epistemology of Trust

Sanford Goldberg is a philosopher who focuses on language, mind, and epistemology (which can be loosely defined as the study of knowledge). Within a 2013 essay, Goldberg examined the problem of trust within the education system.

He examines an obvious, yet often ignored issue with the way learning works. He asks: how do we convince students to trust their teachers, whilst encouraging them to challenge their teacher’s claims?

Getting students to trust a teacher is not too hard (in a centralized system), as they can use their own academic and educational achievements as a means of proving their worth. I remember my Law of Evidence tutor introducing herself by listing off the number of PhDs she had; it may have been a little brazen, but it definitely got us to trust her.

However, if teachers are trusted to the point where they are never questioned, then we create a problem where the students mindlessly parrot their teacher’s claims, feeling unworthy of disputing or independently thinking. This can become especially problematic if those teachers hold beliefs or preconceived ideas that are harmful or simply wrong.

Goldberg focuses his essay on the education of young children, as they are often deeply dependent on their teachers. Although, this can also be a problem at the university level, as many fresh students become in awe of their tutors.

The issue raised in this essay is particularly thorny when it comes to DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations), as educators can often naturally take on the role of an authority figure, either because they think their knowledge is needed within the space, or because the students themselves look to them for guidance.

Goldberg argues that the best solution for this is to guide young students into intellectual (or epistemic) autonomy by providing them with slightly tougher and tougher informational resources, with the aim of allowing them to build their own critical skills. This means that when students read and comprehend these documents, they will gain their own understanding of them, which they can use to challenge the beliefs of their teachers.

Of course, this answer is designed for centralized educational centres. So, how can we take Goldberg’s work and reconstruct it for DAO-based education? I believe the best way would be to welcome a plurality of opinions arising from teachers. It may begin by encouraging anybody who wishes to educate others to offer their knowledge to other learners, whilst also encouraging those educators to refute their own ideas, or at least point them in the direction of alternative and contradictory thoughts.

For people to know other ideas and beliefs exist, and that those can also be backed up by accredited and passionate individuals, is an extremely important thing– it helps prevent the construction of an echo chamber. I saw something similar to this actually happen in my Jurisprudence (philosophy of law) class. We had two tutors throughout the module, and neither exactly saw eye-to-eye. This meant that we were given a more well-rounded understanding of the topics that were being taught. There was also a time in my Analytic Philosophy module when our professor casually pointed us towards an essay by another professor who had written it with the aim of refuting our own tutor’s PhD.

Goldberg’s essay focuses on very young children, where it might be damaging to suggest that their teachers could be wrong, but DAOs usually have adults in them, and this issue of epistemic autonomy can be resolved by letting academic doubt enter the space.

Kiymet Selvi — Phenomenology of Education

Kıymet Selvi is a Doctor of Educational Sciences, with most of her work focusing on learning, pedagogy (teaching), and curriculum development. She has also examined the educational world from a phenomenological perspective throughout her career.

Phenomenology is a tough word to define, but it is generally considered to be the branch of philosophy focused on studying experience, and in particular the experience of being something. It is also referred to as the study of perception. It is about the subjective and inward experiences of each individual, and how each individual familiarises themselves with such experiences and perceptions.

Selvi is a major proponent of phenomenology in the educational process. Experience is arguably the beginning of all learning, as learning cannot exist without perception or experience. Everything we learn is processed through our own very subjective lens– we can never escape our own perceptions.

However, despite this, it is not exactly common to hear educational centres or systems speak about subjective experience as the beginning of any learning process. Phenomenology is often unconsidered in an educational setting.

Selvi states that “The phenomenological approach in education is very important for self-individualization and self-development” as it fosters our own desire to discover and create (and discover through creativity). It also inherently views students individually as it places their own experiences on a pedestal. It is very different from simply teaching students by parroting information to them.

Selvi notes that formal education places the institutional intentions of the educations centres at the forefront, oftentimes dismissing each student’s own desires and intentions. For a phenomenological approach to education, we would need each student to feel able to explore their own intentions. Here, you will see that like Goldberg, Selvi focuses on fostering autonomy as well.

In fact, Selvi even touches on a similar issue to Goldberg– within one of her essays, she notes that when students follow the plans of institutions, they dampen their own ability to question and explore their own ideas and opinions, as their surroundings teach them they are unimportant.

One method this issue can be reduced within a DAO is by giving students the ability to vote on what they would like within a curriculum. This gives students a voice, and allows them to better command their own educational experiences. This is not a complete solution, however, as it still focuses on the dominant ideas within a community, rather than the individual intentions of each student, but it moves the needle closer to student-guided learning than any formal education currently does.

In this sense, the best option might be for there to be many, many educational DAOs in existence, so that learners can find the ones that align with their intentions most, and then use their influence via voting power to alter and tweak the curriculum as much as they can.

Final Words

The educational arm of web3 is just starting out. It will be deeply fascinating to see how decentralized education will function in the months and years to come, and how it will influence our more formal and centralized educational institutions.

These are just a small handful of philosophers of education who are worth exploring. In reality, this branch of philosophy has a long and rich history dating back to Socrates (arguably one of the first philosophers of education). However, I believe beginning with the ideas of these three individuals discussed will give a good basis for anybody building an educational DAO.

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