Chapter 4: Educational Principles

The Lure of Divine Love: Human Experience and Christian Faith in a Process Perspective
by Norman Pittenger

Chapter 4: Educational Principles

The word education is not derived, as so many think, from the Latin verb educere, whose meaning is "educe" or "bring out"; it comes from educare, which may be translated as "leading along." Classicists will at once recognize this derivation from the simple fact that the last principal part of the verb educare is educatum, while that of the verb educare is educatum; hence, we have "education," not "eduction."

This little academic exercise should help us see that a good deal of talk about education as primarily a "bringing out" of latent knowledge, with consequences for the entire process of instruction, is beside the point. Nobody would wish to deny that such drawing out of possibilities is important, although some would prefer to speak of the enterprise as enabling such possibilities to become actual. But the first purpose of education must be the effort to lead young people, and indeed everybody, into a deeper understanding of the historical past and of the concrete world in which they find themselves. Then they may be helped to learn to adapt themselves to the situation which through long development has come to be what and as it is, and seek to prepare for the unexplored and relatively open future ahead of them.

Process thought has much to offer in suggesting a sound perspective on the principles that should govern the work of -- as it should also determine the approach to -- education both of the young, whether they be children or adolescents, and of adults who are enrolled in institutions of higher learning or in other ways participate in what appropriately is called the educational process. In this chapter we shall consider some of these principles.

But we may profit from still another brief summary of the relevant affirmations of process thought, about which so much has been said in preceding chapters. First, we live in a world of change, movement, and development, and we ourselves are changing and developing. Second, we live in a world that is societal in quality. Everything is related to, affected by, and itself influences everything else. We belong together, move together, work together, and we find our human fulfillment in the participatory relationships that constitute all entities, from the lowest levels of energy to the highest -- even to God, as a later chapter will urge.

Third, the cosmos is kept in order more by lure and persuasion than by the exercise of sheer coercive power. Teilhard de Chardin said that "amorization" is the basic principle in the cosmos, even if force often appears to be more effective. And above all, it is lure, or the invitation to respond, which introduces novelty into a world that is getting somewhere. Thus initial possibilities make their appeal as ways in which realization and fulfillment may be achieved. Fourth, and finally, at every level of creation there is genuine freedom, exercised at the moment when decisions for or against new possibilities must be made. These decisions have their necessary consequences in that the choices made alter the situations that follow them. Furthermore, at the human level such decisions are consciously and responsibly made, although there are obvious restrictions on the degree of freedom present and the chance of the decisions becoming effective.

Dynamism, interrelationship, persuasion or love, and freedom with responsibility in decision are the principles disclosed to us in our own experience and observation, as well as applied by generalization to the rest of the world. In such a creation, in a world like that, with such people as we know ourselves to be, identity is established by the complex unity of the past, accepted or rejected; the present, in which relationships are enjoyed or refused; and the future, whose achievement is to be striven for. These three come together in this or that particular and concrete focus or occasion. Thus I am what I am because my past has been what it has been, because my present relationships are what they are, and because my aim or goal is one I have chosen. When I deal with someone else I must look upon that person as also being just such a focus. But the important point in my existence is not some supposedly isolated or discrete moment in it but the direction or routing that is taken as the past is brought into the present and directed toward the future.

This analysis may be arid and abstract, and it repeats what has been said earlier. Yet the summary may have indicated that the existence it seeks to describe is lively, concrete, and vivid for each of us. I believe that everybody can see that this is so, if and when we use this analysis as a clue to understanding ourselves. We will know ourselves better and hence will be able to know others better too. Nowhere will this knowledge and awareness be more significant than in the way in which we come to look at the total educational process in terms of self and others. All education, at every level, involves a relationship between those who teach and those who learn. No matter how remote the subject matter may seem from personal contacts, a teacher must know his or her pupils, a lecturer the audience, a demonstrator in a laboratory the people with whom work is being done. Very likely, failure by faculty members really to grasp this obvious truth is the occasion for much student discontent today.

Let us now look at some of the implications of process thought for education. I believe there are at least nine implications, and we shall consider them one at a time.

First, it is clear that the educational enterprise, whose purpose is to lead and train students in the understanding of themselves as part of a social development, should promote and foster growth rather than prevent or inhibit it. Sound educational practice will direct itself to helping students change and develop, to become mature. The subject matter required in the curriculum is not meant to stifle initiative. And it is not intended, nor should it seek, to keep students at the level of children who simply repeat by rote what they have been taught to remember.

This is why the responsible educator delights in the students’ rejection of old and outworn ideas and rejoices in the acceptance of new ones that promise to bring further personal fulfillment and improve social relationships. A large portion of the old is of course both good and sound and will not be discarded but rather incorporated into newer patterns, learned from experience in the contemporary world, so that the role of the past in the present and toward the future is enhanced and its relative value given proper place. But where things said or done in the past have been disproved, or where they are not useful in new circumstances (save as a matter of historical awareness or of what might be styled archaeological interest), this fact will be acknowledged. There should be respect for the past but no idolatry of it.

Thus, second, education is for life together and for the enhancement of life together. Whatever may be the importance of mere knowledge of facts, past or present -- and certainly such knowledge is important -- the purpose of the educational enterprise is the development of an openness to truth wherever it may be found. Whitehead once said that the function of reason in human existence is to enhance life, to make life better and to provide opportunities for precisely such an enhancement for as many people as possible. Hence, good education must have as one of its major purposes a participation in the common life at an intelligent level, with due recognition of all that is relevant to augmenting that life.

This common life, however, continues in time. Nobody exists only in the immediately contemporary situation. This truth suggests, in the third place, that an ingredient in education is introduction to the living past which we inherit. We belong to the total human community, and we do well to enter sympathetically into what has gone before us as well as to know what is going on around us. The past is one of the factors that establishes our human identity -- although it is not the only one, since, as we have argued, present and future also have their necessary place as identifying factors. As one of those identifying factors, the past can speak to us with enormous authority, provided it is conveyed by a method of teaching and a kind of study that make what might have been a dead past into a past experienced in the living present. But at the same time, sound education can never forget that students, like their teachers, are actually living now. The authority of the past is never absolute, since the issues of the present day, upon which light is thrown by the accumulated experience of the human race, are what each of us must deal with. In the poet’s words, "New occasions teach new duties. Time makes ancient good uncouth."

This is why the future must also be in the picture. Education is not an exercise in "futurology" -- that barbarous Latin-Greek hybrid so much used today -- but it should be carried on in awareness of the possibilities ahead of us. One of its aims is preparation, especially of the young, for taking part in that future, whatever that part may be. Thus a sound education will be a communication of the wisdom of the past, an introduction to the issues of the present, and a stimulus to intelligent and dedicated action for a better future.

This brings us to our fourth point. What are the contents of good education as far as curriculum goes? My own response is to urge first a broad and humane introduction to the whole human scene, accommodated of course to the capacity of the student to grasp it. Second, there should be an honest and summary communication of the scientific and cultural situation in the present day, with a variety of related material, and dealing with problems and proposed answers. In more advanced education at the university level, there must necessarily be specialization -- in one of the sciences, in literature, in philosophy, in the languages, and in much else. But specialization cannot usefully be pursued until there is first a broad base in general education.

Therefore, the fifth point is the communication of information. But that communication must be imaginative, and not by such devices as the memorizing of lists or dates of battles or kings or presidents. When imagination is present, information comes alive. It also comes alive when we recognize that everybody, young or old, is more likely to learn by doing than by accumulating factual details picked up with no real interest on the part of the students. Actual acquaintance means more than meeting the bare facts in a book. To be sure, the basic facts must be acquired, but the way in which they are acquired will be different, and the students will find their interests stimulated and quickened when they are invited to have some share in the process of acquisition.

Sixth, factual material must somehow be put to use. This is why good teaching of the sciences always includes a considerable amount of supervised laboratory work in which students are encouraged to make experiments that will enable them to see why a particular statement has become part of the normal stock-in-trade of the scientific world. Chemistry cannot be taught unless the students know about the subject firsthand. Botany is best learned in the field, even though there must be preparation in the classroom or lecture hall. The would-be astronomer needs the experience of personal observation of the heavens. And so it goes, all along the line.

Clearly some academic subjects do not readily lend themselves to this kind of practical work. But all can include personal activity by students: thinking through problems, writing about them, discussing them with teachers and other students. Otherwise, the work of the school will be academic in the bad sense of the word -- remote, abstract, dull, tedious, with no likelihood of attracting the students’ interest. There may be something to be said for the academic grind as a way of obtaining a minimal collection of important data, but there is nothing to be said for turning the whole educational enterprise into a deadly routine. Indeed, that would not really be education at all but merely a way of satisfying minute examination requirements.

A seventh implication of process thought for education has already been touched on briefly earlier in this chapter. This is the indispensable role of the teacher in the enterprise. Here is where persuasion and attraction have their value. A teacher can and must be firm in direction of the students, but this need not mean teaching by coercive means or trying to force students into unquestioning or unqualified acceptance of thoughts or facts that are remote from their actual existence. Along with the stimulus provided by the invitation to share in a common quest for truth, the central place of what I have called lure can never be forgotten.

Whatever discipline is necessary -- and some discipline is required if the whole educational process is not to become anarchic -- will be for the sake of the whole group, so that each student will learn to cooperate with others. This is best accomplished by the example of the teacher. Enforced rules dictated from above may seem a convenient shortcut, but observation makes clear that the result will be an overriding of student sensitivity and a smothering of student initiative.

This brings us to the eighth implication. It is difficult to know how to put this into words, but I suggest that it can best be understood as the middle way between old-fashioned subject-centered schooling and ultramodern student-centered schooling. Either of these separately will not do the job. Education in which the subject is so central that the student is forgotten will perhaps work with a very few, but for the great majority it will turn school, college, or university into deadly boredom. That is what a considerable number of university students today feel; it is another element in the so-called student revolt of our time. But when the student is so central that the subject counts for little or nothing, we can arrive at the unfortunate situation that a friend of mine once described as "a confusion of educational process with the pooling of ignorance." In that case, nothing is really learned. The young daughter of an acquaintance of mine spoke to the point when she told me that at her school there were no requirements of any kind and that, as a result, she "got bored stiff with having to do every day what she wanted to do." In fact, all students and especially young people deeply appreciate and value academic discipline if by discipline we mean both the subject-matter to be studied and some set requirements in the mastering of it.

The ninth and last implication is in many ways the most important of all since it sums up a good deal of what has been said earlier. This implication is derived from one of the most valuable insights of process thought, namely, that each of us is not only an intellect, not only a rational being with some capacity to learn truth, not only a will to be taught to strive and struggle -- human beings are supremely sensitive, desiring, feeling, appreciating, and valuing beings. A grave defect in much conventional education is that it tends to forget this truth. I have spoken of dullness and boredom in the intellectual area; I must now add that ugliness, or its companions prettiness and vulgarity, are equally dangerous if we hope to assist people in coming to their best fulfillment in a life of intense satisfaction. I said as much in the earlier chapter on the humanities.

In whatever way we find possible, innate aesthetic sensitivity, not least in the young person, needs to be stimulated, cultivated, and enhanced. One is often astounded to see how quite young children will respond to beauty of word and sound and sight, of color and music. An education that misses out on these will be inadequate to the wholeness of human existence, even if it may seem to accomplish its supposedly primary intellectual objective.

I am convinced that when these implications are remembered, when education reckons with them, the results will far exceed our expectations. The details of their application need to be worked out, of course; one of the tasks of theorists and practitioners in education is to do just this. But when they are worked out, education will become more attractive and compelling to those who hitherto have so often regarded themselves as only its victims. They will be no longer victims but genuine participants in the enterprise. And that will be all to the good.

What has been said here about education and especially our insistence on the importance of the aesthetic in its broadest sense -- feelings, desires, appreciation, valuation, and response to the lovely or beautiful in its many manifestations -- is highly relevant to the subject of our next chapters, which have to do with the moral and religious aspect of life as illuminated by process thought. There has been a tendency in Christian circles, above all in those of Protestant allegiance, to emphasize the ethical side of religion. I do not wish to minimize that side, and in the next chapter I shall consider the ethical question and its significance as process thought throws light on it. But religion is largely a matter of deeply felt relationships, of response to beauty (God was once said to be "the altogether lovely"), of appreciation, and of a sense of value. This is not to imply that it is merely fanciful, but it does tell us that religion is very much a matter of profound imagination.

So when we look at the religious aspect of human existence and see what contributions process thought may have to make to this inescapable and indestructible manifestation of the human spirit, we shall need to emphasize that it is to be understood not in the wooden fashion that so often has prevailed in institutional churches and in conventional religious communities but as a matter of imaginative and aesthetic response to the human situation and to whatever is supremely worshipful in the cosmos -- that is, to what religion calls "God."