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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

Print version ISSN 0041-4751

Abstract

ELOFF, Irma. Understanding, trust and authority in education. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2011, vol.51, n.2, pp. 202-213. ISSN 0041-4751.

In this article I reflect on three central theoretical constructs in the work of W.A. Landman. I unpack the constructs of understanding, trust and authority, conceptualized as pedagogical relationship structures by Landman, by connecting them with more recent studies focusing on the same constructs. I do this in order to assess the relevance of Landman's constructs to educational phenomena today. The article postulates three central tenets: I argue that i) understandings of these three constructs be expanded beyond the individual adult-child educational relationship, ii) the intrinsic associations between the three constructs still be retained as we expand their utility, and that iii) we include more systemic complexities in our theoretical understanding of the constructs understanding, trust and authority. In this manner, I hypothesize that Landman's theory on pedagogical relationships-structures can increase its applicability and relevance in today's complex teaching and learning contexts. The article sets out to revisit the notions of understanding, trust and authority as it was defined by Landman and his colleagues in their educational work from 1960 - 1980. It is evident that all of these constructs are defined in terms of relationships between adults and children. The constructs are strongly connected to one another in the ways in which they are theorized. The cogitations of the concepts furthermore foreground significant equality between adults and children, even though the responsibility for leading the child to independent adulthood rests upon the shoulders of the adult. "Understanding" is conceptualized in terms of the responsibility of the adult to fully understand the nature of the child - in order to create fruitful teaching and learning situations. The definition of "trust" connects the need to venture into the unknown, the importance of full acceptance and appropriate expectations, security, love and warmth. Landman defi nes "authority" by stressing the importance of good example and the need for children to participate in decisionmaking. He stresses that deep and mutual understanding and authentic trust are prerequisites for authority within the adult-child relationship. Throughout the article, I mirror the reflections about Landman's work by pointing towards the key precepts of good theories, e.g. the fact that good theories consist of simple elementary theoretical constructs (such as understanding, trust and authority), that they explain observable phenomena in the natural world, they are logical, they connect certain constructs and they are descriptive in nature. Several contemporary studies on understanding, trust and authority are connected to Landman's work. The studies quoted straddle a variety of scientific disciplines. The studies which explore "understanding" show the links between the words we use to describe the world and our understanding of it. It also shows how "understanding" is viewed beyond an individual personal relationship. Studies in this fi eld also seem to have become strongly systemically inclined. When it comes to studies on "trust" the nuanced view of trust becomes evident. I foreground the fact that there are various types of trust as well as various degrees of trust identifi ed in recent studies. The need to conceptualize trust on a systemic level emerges again from current studies. The anti-authoritarian intellectual discourse has changed the way in which "authority" is being conceptualized today - of the three constructs under discussion here, perhaps the most signifi cantly. While Landman has been consistent in warning about the penurious effect of defi ning authority without trust and understanding, current studies have a stronger focus on the links between authority, power and knowledge production, the need for non-aggressive authority and the connections between prosperity and power. Based on these observations, the article concludes with the three arguments stated in the first paragraph of this summary, e.g. a proposal to expand Landman's conceptualizations beyond the individual adult-child educational relationship, ii) retaining the intrinsic associations between the three constructs, and iii) including systemic complexities with regard to understanding, trust and authority in Education.

Keywords : Understanding; trust; authority; education; teaching; learning.

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