Award-winning lecturer confronts purpose of education

By Luke Reid

“I can no longer honestly derive any inspiration for my teaching from the goal of ‘making South Africa a just and democratic society’…The ideal of a ‘just society’ no longer functions as a self-evident inspiration for what any of us are doing here.”

This was part of the argument made to the Rhodes community by Politics Lecturer Dr Leonhard Praeg on April 24 during a lecture that formed part of his acceptance of the Vice Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award. The award was conferred upon him during Graduation weekend.

Praeg has previously courted public controversy with an article published in Activate arguing for Rhodes to stop teaching American students in protest against their country’s foreign policy.

Praeg began his lecture with poignant anecdotes about student apathy, virtual reality and the familiar scenario of a lecturer and group of students pretending that they’ve gathered in a lecture theatre for a reason. He then went on to provide an intricate, richly worked argument for “a vision of Teaching as Justice” – the title of his lecture.

Praeg explains the necessity of his argument: “You cannot expect students to acquire knowledge if you do not help them answer the question about the meaning of knowledge, if you cannot make them see how having knowledge will change their lives. It is possible and perhaps imperative that we bring questions of spirituality and meaning to bear on one’s educational practice.”

Praeg received his Masters in Education with distinction in 2006, following a PhD in Philosophy. Praeg points out that no, or hardly any, academics at a university get teacher training. “You pretty much have to make it up, find a way of doing it so that you yourself find it meaningful, that students have a meaningful time and that the work gets done. The significance of the award, for me, is some affirmation or acknowledgement that I have devised a teaching praxis that balances these three things.”

Praeg is the second lecturer from the politics department to receive the award, after Professor Louise Vincent was awarded it in 2002.

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