Reconceptualising teaching as transformative practice: Alasdair MacIntyre in the South African context


In its ideal conception the post-Apartheid education landscape is regarded as a site of transformation, promoting democratic ideals such as citizenship, freedom and critical thought. The role of the educator is pivotal in realizing this transformation in the learners she teaches, but this realization extends beyond merely teaching the curriculum to the educator herself, as the site where these democratic ideals are embodied and enacted. The teacher is thus centrally placed as a moral agent whose behaviour, in the classroom space particularly, should ideally represent and communicate the values we aspire to cultivate in post-Apartheid South African society generally.
Thus, teaching, in the above conception, fits broadly within the conception of a ‘practice’ in the sense developed by Alasdair MacIntyre, in that it is a transformative activity the enactment of which not only benefits the practitioner, but also extends to and benefits the broader community as well. Furthermore, practices are grounded in features of social or moral life we hold to be significant and, importantly, it is only through their active cultivation that they can be made tangible and further developed. MacIntyre’s theory of virtue is based on a three-fold interrelationship between practices, how they meaningfully narrate and shape an individual life, and how, in turn, this builds and sustains our moral and social traditions. Using these ideas to analyse post-Apartheid South Africa, and the structural transformation paradox it is in, reveals the difficult and complex nature of a society that is in this transitional space. The claim is that attentiveness to practices in the educational space, and the way they shape and inform moral and social traditions, is necessary to more fully understand and guide this societal transformation.

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