I’ve been an idiotés for most of my life. I wonder if it has only been more recently that I have been anything but an idotés. I’m not suggesting that I’m a dolt, or dullard or have low mental capacity (although I am sure some of my teachers might have thought of me as such – especially the person who had to mark my A’Level Maths exam). No. I’m an idiotés because I’ve been too inward facing in my work.

The ancient Greeks – who bear responsibility for the origins of many of the words we use in modern society – saw an idotés as something or someone completely different to the way we view an idiot. In a society that was focused on the greater good and on the improvement of civic affairs an idiotés was someone who concentrated on their own life and was unconcerned with larger affairs.

So why do I think I may have been an idiotés?

Because I have let so many decisions that affect me during my daily life be decided both externally and in advance. Let me explain. When I initially decided on the approach I would use in my lessons I just followed the crowd. I did what everyone else did. When I entered a gymnasium, I used it the way that the architect intended and the way I had seen it used in the past and in the way the national curriculum intended. In many ways it was preconfigured, and I just followed on meekly behind these decisions. In short, I didn’t challenge these expectations.

More recently I have looked at these pre-conditions and challenged them. I have asked questions. What do I have the power to do? What do I believe physical education is there to do? What is my ethical stance on PE? My teaching? What is my fundamental responsibility? Finally, and fundamentally, how do I engage with my civil responsibility to improve society? In other words, how I stop being an idiotés and start being a contributing citizen. The ancient Greeks thought that anyone who developed only themselves was decadent and that everyone should be concerned with larger affairs. Has this message changed? Can we only look at our own classrooms and the things we are allowed to do, or should we look beyond these?

So. What do you, ethically, believe is the purpose of education? Sicilia-Camacho and Fernández-Balboa suggest that perhaps ‘universal dignity for all’ was a good starting point. They held that, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, nationality, skin colour, religion, political opinion, sexuality, class, wealth, or any other individual or social trait, condition or circumstance, everyone has a right to their own personal dignity and that the primary purpose of pedagogy should be the active promotion of universal dignity.

It is only in the last 15 years or so that I have challenge my original approach to teaching and become a ‘conscientious citizen.’ Reflection has been key in this process where, as a consequence, I’ve changed my pedagogy and begun to learn about things outside of the stories that my teachers told to me. I have started to take up socially responsible ways of teaching considering my learners’ needs and not just my own. However, as I have always argued reflection is not just an end point it is a journey and I am still working to try and change things though my work both inside and outside my classrooms, both with my students and this blog, alongside my work on twitter and in my work with other agencies – with reflection guiding this process.

So, are you an idiotés or and am I an idiot for suggesting it? Ethically what do you think the purpose of education is and how many of your decisions are made for you by others before you even get into a classroom? Politically, what can you do about it? What do you want to do about it?

The Paper

Sicilia-Camacho and Fernández-Balboa begin this paper by asking how physical educators – at any level – give meaning to their own pedagogy and how do their personal histories affect that meaning? They suggest that there is an “intimate connection between personhood and pedagogy” and wonder how close we ever get to understanding this. How often do we critically reflect on our lives, especially when such reflection can be difficult and painful? How do we translate our experiences and feelings into words? With the risks inherent in revealing ourselves to others (let alone to the public) in writing are we prepared to take the chance that we might be misjudged or misinterpreted?

Sicilia-Camacho and Fernández-Balboa suggest that both the reader and the writer gain insights and that they (both) “become more conscious and thoughtful about their role as educators and citizens.”

However, one of the barriers to such writing has been (in addition to the concerns mentioned above) that it has not been seen as being either scientific or objective enough. Some feel that the lines between fact and fiction, true and imagined, and here and there are blurred by the reflective thinking and writing process.

The authors hold that autobiographical accounts are humanising and allow the writer to find his/her voice and identity. It is a search for self and can create highly personal and revealing texts about the author’s lived experiences. They suggest that autobiography explores a number of interesting questions:

What is a life?

How can we know a life?

How can we tell a life?

What is the link between a life lived and a life told?

How does a life telling connect a culture and its history?

How does the reading of a life connect to the telling of a life?

Are all lives to be told equally of are some better to tell than others?

The authors argue that if these questions are put into the context of pedagogy then they allow us to see someone’s bio-pedagogy. Bio-pedagogy shows the links between pedagogy and personhood. It helps to “capture and explain our life experiences in relation to teaching and learning” and helps the writer to understand, and develop, their pedagogical ethics and politics. In short, I see bio-pedagogy as a way of seeing if you have been an idiotés or a citizen.

An idiotés (as I hope I alluded to in the start of this blog) focuses on them self and disregards the wider world. In physical education this means that they teach the way that they want to teach or the way that they are expected to teach, and they don’t challenge the rationale behind this decision. Put in Sicilia-Camacho and Fernández-Balboa’s words, “a teacher’s response to a given situation will be influenced not just by contextual circumstances, peer pressures, and/or his/her intellectual resources (or lack of them), but, also, and most importantly, by his/her understanding of ethical and political principles, rights, and responsibilities.”

Sicilia-Camacho and Fernández-Balboa suggests that we need to stop imposing our ‘truths’ on our co-learners (i.e. our students) and undertake the educative process together. Bio-pedagogy can help us to find meaning to our pedagogy and help us to shine a light on the importance of ethics and politics and realise that we are agents of change and not idiotés

What’s next? As part of this series of blogs I propose the following as a way of considering the implications of this research on your teaching- ThinkActChange (or TAC for short).

Think about findings of the paper – do they resonate with you? Use Twitter (@DrAshCasey) to ask a question, seek clarification, maybe challenge the findings.

Act on what you’ve read. What do you believe? Is it your responsibility to make changes or is this just something else that I’ve put on your plate? Is there action to take? If so, what might it be?

Change what you do in response to your thoughts and actions? Is this a personal undertaking? If you want to do something, or are looking for help, then please let the community know about it.

I wouldn’t expect every paper to get beyond the T or even the A of TAC but if one paper resonates enough to get to C then hopefully all this is worthwhile. Good luck.


Sicilia-Camacho, A. & Fernábdez-Balboa, J-M. (2006) Ethics, politics and bio-pedagogy in physical education teacher education: easing the tension between the self and the group. Sport, Education and Society, 11:1, 1-20