Literal Education in Contradistinction to the so-called Formal Education.

Literal Education in Contradistinction to the so-called Formal Education.
A Philosophical Response to Ozioma Okey-Kalu’s How to make Education reduce Poverty in Africa.


General Introduction

It is very pertinent to recall that the French hermeneutic phenomenologist, Jean Paul Gustave Ricoeur had surmised before his death in 2005, that “Nobody speaks from nowhere”, hence, there is no presuppositionless statement”, as Professor E. E. Amaku would always infer. But the question to be asked is: where does the speaker speaks from? Is s/he speaking from a historically authentic source? Does s/he sounds so logical, or can his/her supposition(s) be validated when put to test? To what extent does s/he academically heal from the root – sanitio iradice?, et cetra. To this end, for every logician, philosopher, semanticist, structuralist and or educationist, who is well grounded in his/her field would easily figure out where every speaker perspectively speaks from, hence ascertaining whether or not his/her background is great or shallow.

It is worthy of note that this piece does not tend to undermine any pre-knowledge or article, rather the aim of this piece is totally on the improvement of human knowledge, thereby making a better contribution to the continuum of humanity. Hence this piece is humbly open for a constructive criticism. If one deconstructs the term formal, he cannot but be amazed on what would be his/her findings, especially as to when one says formal education or formal letter, etc. It is for the reason of these findings that it is seen in the title of this piece as a so-called formal education. It is so-called, in that it (formal) becomes meaningless, and derogatory, so to say, after a critical destruction of the term. Thus, it was used primarily in Africa and some other continents in order to superiorize the culture of the colonists and to inferiorize the culture of the colonized. This is not to sound Afrocentric, remember, but it is to expose a materially implied knowledge that had transpired during and after colonialism especially in Africa, even though that such subjugation had started after Alexander the Great had a conquest on Egypt.

Notwithstanding, following John Dewey’s categories of education, are would simply have to understand that what is called formal education is nothing but literal education. For, before colonialism, Africa, per se had, and still has her own way or form of doing education – learning. The Orientals have theirs till date. So it is misleading to keep taking literal education for formal education in Africa and beyond; for literal education as a second stratum of education has to do with learning how to read and write, probably, in a classroom, hall, market square or village square; hence the phrase formal educaton would be a Miseducation, when used instead of literal education, for does it mean that the first, third and fourth strata of education have no way, no form of doing them? If they have a way, a form, or a method of doing them, then using formal education for literal education is very suicidal or murderous in the academic world, for it limits and deteriorates the growth, development, improvement and enhancement of the human knowledge, as in what Innocent Onyewuenyi called Miseducation. Be it as it may, this piece will move further to elaborate more on Dewey’s stratification of education; further deconstructs the term formal thereby exposing the Aristotelian four causes; expounds the deconstruction of the term formal, while alluding to the pre-colonial method of education in Africa, at least from Nigerian perspective, and finally gives a general conclusion, which illustrates whether literal education is the way forward for Africa or not.

On John Dewey’s Stratification of Education

Dewey’s main educational theories were presented in My Pedagogic Creed (1897), and some others like The School and Society (1900), The Child and the Curriculum (1902), Democracy and Education (1916), etc. Thus, several themes recur throughout these writings. Dewey continually argues that education and learning are social and interactive processes, and thus the school itself is a social institution through which social reform can and should take place. He acknowledges that education and schooling are instrumental in creating social change and reform. He notes that “education is a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that the adjustment of individual activity on the basis fo this social consciousnesss is the only sure method of social reconstruction” – (My Pedagogic Creed, Dewey, 1897).

In The Child and the Curriculum (1902), Dewey discusses two major conflicting schools of thought regarding educational pedagogy. The first is centred on the curriculum and focuses almost solely on the subject matter to be taught. He argues that the major flaw in this methodology is the inactivity of the student; within this framework, “the child is simply the immature being who is mature, he is the superficial being who is to be deepened” – (1902:13). He argues that in order for education to be most effective, content must be presented in a way that allows the student to relate the information to prior experiences, thus deepening the connection with this new knowledge. Next, Dewey argues that too much reliance on the child could be equally detrimental to the learning process. In this second school of thought, “we must take our stand with the child and our departure from him. It is he and not the subject-matter which determines both quality and quantity of learning” (1902:13-14). According to Dewey, the potential flaw in this line of thinking is that it minimises the importance of the content as well as the role of the teacher. Following Dewey’s thought at this juncture, this flaw in the above second school of thought is seen, with a critical look, in the nature of literal education or schooling, so to speak, that is being undertaken in Africa; and that is what Innocent Onyewuenyi called Miseducation. Miseducation not only in Negroid race but both in Mongoloid race, and the Caucasold world, for everyone at one point or the other has been misled or miseducated, historically speaking.

Dewey debunked in his philosophy of education, the phrase formal education, in that there is nothing like formal education in a real sense, that it is a blasphemy to say formal or informal education [emphasis mine], this will be elaborated in the subsequent paragraphs. However, he further outlined four strata of education in his educational stratification, but remember that the word education is derived from the Latin words educare and educere which means to bring up and to bring forth respectively. Doing a further deconstruction, then one perceives that the letter e means out of while duce means to lead, hence to educate means to lead forth or to extract out, to norish, to train, to mould, the best, say, in man. Hence, according to Dewey, the four strata of education are namely, family education (social norms/customs), literal education (schooling), experiential education (work/job), and leisural education (retirement/old age).

Family Education: The family is the first stratum in social stratification, and so it has a vital and primary function in the upbringing of a child. When a child is born, s/he is born into a family, thus it is the sole responsibility of the family to mould him/her into a social template that synchronizes with the societal norms, customs, cultures and traditions, nay, teaching the child the morality of good and eveil, right and wrong, correct and incorrect. The family teaches the child how to greet, bath, eat, wash, sweep, wear clothes, pray (if a religious family), and many other domestic activities – and this is the first stratum of education. A child born into a family cannot do all these without the parents or guardians directing him/her; s/he cannot even speak a language, if there is nobody to speak a given language to him/her for a cognitive-lingual learning, thus s/he may remain dump and or mutter sounds, according to psychology.

Literal Education: As the child grows up to a certain age according to the society s/he finds himself/herself, the family prepares him/her for a literal education, in other words, known as schooling (and this is what most people wrongly call formal education, as if other strata do not have forms). The child, here, begins to learn how to read and write in a different way as was done earlier in the family. S/he moves from lowest level of literal education called nursery, creché, kindergarten, as the case may be, to a primary level, to a secondary or high school level, to tertiary or college level, to if possible, post graduate level. All these are forms of literal education. Remember, that as the child does this literal education, s/he also comes back home, that is the family and also receives a family education along with the immediate education, so both (family and literal education) could be done simultaneously.

Experiential Education: After his/her literal education, s/he gets a work doing; as this is a totally different stratum of education as distinct from the former two. S/he learns how to do the work, be it in criminal department, religious department, technological department, business department, or any other. Though the acquired knowledge from the first two is of a greater advantage to enable him/her in doing or achieving exploits at this level of education. In other words, this level of education could be termed work/job level, as the individual earns a living by putting in osme efforts independent of the family and schooling. S/he may in some cases combine this work/job level of education with the literal education since some people go to school and work as well; thus one could do this, and visits or goes back home and still undergoes the family education and this simply means that all of these three levels of education could also be done simultaneously.

Leisural Education: It is said that one reaps whatever s/he sows, in that at this level of education, one begins to pluck the many fruits planted while at the earlier years of his/her life. This level could also be called Retirement Period; as one retires from both literal and experiential levels of education, and hence falls back to the family level where s/he could probably receives more knowledge, and or where s/he teaches or imparts acquired societal knowledge overtime to the younger ones. So it is a toall cear and distinct level of education where one also learns a totally different kind of ideas not learnt in the first three. The individual at this adult level does not learn to grow, but learns to impart onto the society, in a way of giving back to the society what she (society) has given to him/her in his/her lifetime for the continuum of humanity.

On Deconstruction of the word: Formal

It is merely academic to explain that Deconstruction is an approach to understanding the relationship between text and meaning, as originated by Jacques Derrida, who conducted readings of texts looking for things that run counter to their intended meaning or structural unity, mny, Deconstruction involves the close reading of texts in order to demonstrate that any given texts has irreconcilably, constradictory meanings, rather than being a unified, logical whole (; to this end, however, the word formal has been entrapped into such bunch of contradiction, as it has been used wrongly by many people in different fields of life.

Derrida argues that in the Western culture, people tend to think and express their thoughts in terms of binary oppositions, for example, formal/informal, white/black, masculine/feminine, cause/effect, conscious/unconscious, presence/absence, speech/writing, etc. Derrida suggests that these are oppositions are hierarchies in miniature, containing one term that the Western culture views as positive or superior and another considered negative, or inferior even if only slightly so. Through Destruction, Derrida aims to erase the boundary between binary oppositions – and to do so in such a way that the hierarchies implied by those oppositions are thrown into question ( However, it is from this background that the word formal is summoned for a query via deconstruction. But remember that the MerriamWebster Dictonary defines the word formal as follows: 1a: belonging to or constituting the form or essence of a thing; 1b: relating to or involving the outward form, structure, relationships, or arrangement of elements rather than content; 2a: following or according with established form, custom or rule, 2b: done in due to or lawful form; 3a: characterized by punctilious respect for form; 3b: rigidly ceremonied; 4: having the appearance without, the susbstance. For now, these definitions may suffice here contextually. Following the word family, one observes firstly the noun form of the word formal viz; noun: formality, informally, formalization; adjective: formal, informal; verb: formalize; adverb: formally, informally ( Thus, to desconstruct the word formal, then one has the root word first which is (form) and second the suffix (al), hence form + al; so to have the word formal, is to combine both its root word and suffix, thus form + al = formal. If one adds a prefix to it, like in + form + al, then the result is = informal; so, if one removes the prefix and suffix, the root word remains, which is form. Then the word form in itself has varieties or multiples of meanings; of which some of the meanings are used erroneously.

Deconstructively speaking, to say that education is formal, means that such education has a form, pattern, hodos, or a way of doing. To say that education is informal, means that such education has no form, pattern, hodos, nor a way of doing. Now, the questions are: what is the yardstick of measuring a form in this sense? What does one mean when s/he says an informal education? Does it mean that such an informal education, has no real form in itself? If yes, how is the informal education being carried out or done? if there is at least a certain way of doing an informal education, why or what makes it informal, since there is a way of doing it? Asking many questions with regard to this, will most probably lead one to an infinite regress, hence reductio ad absurdum. To have a quick recourse to the Aristotelian four causes will help a lot at this point, namely; material cause, formal cause, efficient cause, and final cause. For the purpose of the context of this article only the formal cause will be briefly explained. A formal cause is the form, shape, pattern, figure, mould that a thing has. It is what makes a thing one thing rather than many things. A formal cause must always be observable or perceived by the senses; but when not observed or perceived, that is to say that it is still existing as a plan in someone’s mind, it is said to be as exemplary cause; according to Aristotle a thing cannot both have a formal cause and an exemplary cause, it must have either of them. Thus, for education to be called formal or informal, does it mean that one has a formal cause and the other has nothing at all; or that one has a formal cause, the other exemplary cause? This is what Derrida means when he suggests that people tend to think and express their thoughts is terms of binary oppositions; that these oppositions are hierarchies in miniature, containing one term that the Western culture views as positive or superior and another considered negative or inferior, even only slightly so. Anyaehe P. Ogbonna explains in his book Rediscovering Logic (2005:7) “Logic is the science of necessary forms of thought. A form is something which remain uniform and unaltered, while the matter thrown, in that, form may be varied.” Thus Dewey in his stratification of education, debunked the notion of formal and informal education, while stratifying education from the family to literal to work and finally to retirement – education goes on through the entire life of an individual.

In his book, The African Origin of Greek Philosophy: An Exercise in Afrocentrism (2015:63-64), Onyewenyi, writes: “Egypt was beginning to show signs of weakness during the Twentieth and Twenty-first Dynasties (c.1200 – 1050BC). However, about 945BC, king Piankhi of Nubia, tired of sending yearly compulsory tribute to the Egyptian Pharoah, gathered a strong army and conquarred Egypt and formed the Twenty-third Dynasty with its capital at Bubastis. Nubians and Ethiopians occupied the Egyptian throne and formed the Twenty-third to Twenty-sixth Dynasties (c.950 – 650BC) until the Persians, Cambuses and Darius ursurped power and formed the Twenty-seventh Dynasty (c.500 to 450 BC). The Persians returned again under Artaxerxes III who established the Thirtieth and Thirty-first Dynasties (c.360 – 332 BC). Then Alenxander the Great established his kingdom in Egypt, changing the name of the capital to Alexandria in 332BC. Onyewuenyi explains (2015:22-23); during the years of exploration and trade between European and African kingdoms in the  fifteeth and sixteenth centuries, blacks and whites intermingled freely and did not use colour as a criterion for evaluating people. Antipathy because of colour did not arise. The Europeans at this time in history recognized the intellectual, commercial and political excellence of Africans[…] The Europeans were friendly, interested and concerned with obtaining as much gold and ivory as was possible. As time went on, and as the wealth Africa became the talk of Europe, the idea of conquering Africans and taking over their land and wealth became dominant in European minds, and thus was born a new European ideology in Africa: Imperialism, colonization and slavery. The old and long existing friendship between Europeans and Africans became strained[…] All Europe and European America were  agreed on the new ideology which was solidarist and united the entire white community. The colonists employed every means to justify and safeguard this ideology, especially to the Christian folks at home. New theories, political, racial, and moral, were devised and used to cloak the evils of their ideology with some semblance of innocence. A new style of class structure, history, literature, art, and religion was introduced in Africa as means to consolidate imperiliam, colonialism and slavery.”

At this point, one ought to have understood the explanatory message, from the terminus a quo to the terminus ad quem of this piece, in making efforts to refuting the phrase formal education and its cognate phrases; pointing to the fact that such phrase(s) is an imposition from the colonists to superiorize their literature, art, science, religion and culture, while inferiorizing those of the colonized, at least from the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries. Remember that according to the MerriamWebster Dictionary cited above, the number 2a defines the word formal as: following or according with established form, custom, or rule. If this is the case, then do the pre-colonial method of teaching and or doing education in Africa not an established form, custom, or rule, whether via an oral or written tradition? Was or is the African method of doing education not formal? If yes, why (did) or does it have a form, custom, or rule? Or was or is it not conventionalized? If yes or no, at least it has an African conventionality. Anyways, one would always remember this classic Latin expression: stilus quam potentior gladius est – the pen is mightier than the sword; of which this expression was heightened from the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries. For a determinate instantiation, at least from the Igbo language of the eastern part of Nigeria, a teacher is called onye nkuzi, a carpenter is also called onye nkuzi, why? Since following its declension and or conjugation, iku means to beat, and zi forms ezi, meaning well or proper – now nkuzi etymologically means to beat well or properly; then onye means a person, so onye nkuzi would mean a person who beats (something) well or properly. However, while a teacher beats a person into a proper form of knowledge, morality or character, a carpenter beats a furniture into its proper form of usage or finality. Be it as it may, this piece establishes that Africa ab initio, prior to colonization and backfired slavery has a method or form of passing on knowledge from generation to gereration which is in itself unique an conventionalized method or form original to the African continent and her children. Thus, it is noteworthy for one to be always conscious of the wrong use of the phrase formal education for the correct phrase literal education, according to Dewey. Therefore, when one talks about formal education, s/he is in a rightful sense making literal education the referent or the univers de discours, but does it nesciently.

General Conclusion

To do a general conclusion  of this piece at least from the foregoing, is to ask the question: is Literal Education the way  forward to reducing  poverty in Africa? Nonetheless it would have been thought of to replace what Dewey called Literal Education with Official Education ,but it would still amount to absurdity when deconstructed, and so taking it from its antecedence would amount to begging the question –  petitio principii aut circulus in probandi. However, agreeing with Okey-Kalu is to pro tanto posit that Literal Education would be a great  assistance to skyrocketing Africa  (as it has skyrocketed and still skyrocketing  Europe) to the echelon above the  sky; hence alleviating poverty, but to disagree with her (Okey-Kalu) is  to throw into a ditch the defunct phrase Formal Education via what is called defunctionalisation. Thus, this piece tends to share with the world  that what is wrongly  called Formal Education is in a right sense  Literal Education. Even though that the world since the period of Romanticisim (18th – 19th centuries) at least, have been miseducated literally, in the sense of what the truth is . It is from this perspective that this piece tends to redirect the message that the Okey-Kalu’s work armed at disseminating; to the effect that it lack the philosophical background of what has transpired historically in Africa, thereby picturing Africa as corrupt and unintelligent, so to speak, and so are would ask: does corruption precede poverty or the converse? Though this may sound so metaphilosophical.

However the educational problems of Africa started  since the period in November 332BC, Alexander the great had a conquest on Egypt and hence looted Egyptian libraries while sending to his teacher Aristotle at Athens, Greece. Onyewuenyi (2015:157) has  it thus: “[…] for he sent hundreds of natural-history specimens home to Greece to his old teacher Aristotle, then teaching in Athens. He was much interested in science as he was in his conquests and his great campaign become the first scientific expedition in history. The looting of Egyptian libraries occasioned, in  modern parlance, the transfer of technology in every field of learning and culture to the Western world. This event was the genesis of Western scientific, philosophic and technical knowledge.” So, this was an inhibition to the spread of knowledge that would have taken place from Egypt to all other  parts of Africa , but Alexander’s conquest blocked this growth and development, hence subduing Egypt to following, obeying and doing the orders, dictates and  ordinancies of her master. What a hectic subjugation!  So, it is worthy to note here that even many hundreds of year before colonialism in Africa, that Africa had since blossomed in education, like “the existence of universities in West Africa … e.g the University of Timbuktu — long existed before any university existed in Europe. […] citing the great West African kingdom of Ghana, which was flourishing by AD700 – a time in Europe known as the Dark Ages.” (Onyewuenyi 2015:40).

This blunt subjugation on the grandparent of the world (Africa) by Europe was and is the major leading cause of the educational problems in Africa (cf. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney). The Europeans carried away the African pride – Philosophy; only for the Africa who travelled to Europe during or after colonialism to bring back to Africa their pride – Philosophy, after so many years;  hence philosophical thought seemed strange to Africa thereafter, but are since the remote past reconciling to it. Thus, every government in Africa ought to make philosophy and all its sub-fields compulsory in the academic curricula, for this will bring about mental revolution in Africa, thereby moving from divinism to humanism, and experiencing a great revolutionary motion and or transmutation from being  theocentric to being reasonably  logical and philosophical hence technological in all ramifications of life, as lack of critical thinking exacerbates one’s mental development (cf. How Africans Underdevloped Africa by Joseph Agbo). This would also  reduce over-religiosity, for, the more religious a country is, the poorer she becomes; since it could obviously be seen that most religious countries are the poorest countries all over the world, economically speaking. Thus, Africa ought to work on her problem of over-religiosity, namely, Islam and Christianity, and some fragments of Judaism, unless for man’s natural inclination of being a homo-religiosus – a religious being, having nothing to do with structures but a true search for, and connectivity with the Unmoved Mover, philosophically speaking via natural theology, but absolutely there exists an Incomprehensible but Comprehensible in Itself – God; however, God is inseparable from true religion, but morality is not inseparable from religion; remember the Kantian Categorical Imperative? This piece encourages philosophical  studies in  Africa, for it is noteworthy to know that the more religious a person is, the less rational s/he becomes, hence embracing deepened philosophical studies is embracing  logic and  rationality, as did the ancient Egyptians, Nubians and Ethiopians.

More so, this piece stretches its contributions and recommendations to Africa to the area of practical philosophy called Pragmatism as championed by John Dewey. He believed that human being learn through a ‘hands-on’ approach. This places Dewey in the educational philosophy of pragmatism. Pragmatists believe that reality must be experienced, this means that students must interact with their environment in order to adapt and learn. Hence, pragmatism means thinking of or dealing with problems in a practical way, rather than by using theory or abstract principles only. Pragmatism approaches things that focuses on the practical or logical response; since addressing problems logically and practically is example of pragmatism. Can Africa accept to give full attention and to pragmatism? If they do, this would be an added healing to the problems of education and poverty in Africa. For, poverty starts from the mind, as when one correlates the mind and the body, how an individual’s brain is neurologically wired from infancy determines the power and channel of the mind in adulthood through teenage period. Philosophical pragmatism would do a great job in upturning and placing  aright the minds of the  millions of youths in Africa. Thus poverty is not the major problem in Africa, but a lack  of the mother of all knowledge – Philosophy. This piece concludes by reminding everyone that what water is to all fishes, is what philosophy, especially logic is to human intellect and knowledge, for without logic, no human being would reason correctly, as Anyaehe P. Ogbonna (2016:21) Logic: Getting From Here to There; poignantly asserts:  “To make men reason well  is the task of logic, hence to say that men can reason well without logical sciences is as true as saying that they can live  healthily without mechine. A person can live without medicine insofar as he is healthy and so can the reasoner do without the science of reasoning as long as they can reason correctly. But how many are there that can reason so? Can a man claim to be immortal in his body and infallible in his mind? The answer to this question is inevitable.”

Okorie, Chizoba Sebastian

The writer is a Philosopher, Logician, and Metaphysician. He articulated this writeup from the viewpoint of the philosophical and holistic meaning of education, per se, especially as it pertains to Africa and the entire globe.