This proverb is used originally by the African people, and Hillary Clinton was right in using this. How true it is! A child is born from a man and a woman, but that is not the whole story. Even from the very start of a child’s life, it is part of a community. Therefore society needs parents and parents need a society.
A child needs education. Let’s at least assume that. There have been people arguing that a child is a tabula rasa, a blank canvas. On the other hand there have been people arguing that a child is determined from the start, because of its genes. I for one will not deny our genetic passport, so a child is never a totally blank canvas. But studies of so called wild children and other studies have definitively shown that a child needs education.
… one can not deny the necessity of education. If you deny this necessity, you proclaim born adultness, full self responsibility of an immature child, and more of such nonsense.1 Why education?
This forces us to think about what education really is or should be. Is there a philosophy of education that we can use here? Let’s try to reflect on three different aspects of education: its values, its goals and its content.
According to the Jewish Christian tradition that I rely on, I have to learn, my whole life long. It is not something I can do in my spare time, like a hobby. Instead, it is my duty to learn whether I’m rich or poor, sick or healthy, young or old. Of all the rules for behaviour, learning is the most important. Learning leads to action and becoming a “Tov” person, according to Jewish tradition. “Tov” means not only good in itself, it means good as we are meant to be.It is not important that I am not like mother Teresa. It is about the importance of being me, Jet.
Learning is not just a command, but a way of living. Learning leads to good practice, and to know what good practice is, you need to study. Good practice means: you know what you are doing, you know how you do it and why you do it.2 Each student has to follow his own path of learning to reach the ultimate goal: to become a “tov” person.3 But in becoming myself as I am meant to be I do not stand alone. I am a part of a community such as my family, my church, my village or my country. I am not being educated in a vacuum. Education is not only individual empowerment but education is by and for this community. The question we have to ask ourselves is what kind of people does our community need?
The goal of education is to educate new members of the community. You can not separate education from the community it is in. It is a mistake to think that we are independent individuals.
Émile Durkheim states it clearly:
Education has to achieve humanness. But not humanness as a natural phenomenon, but humanness the way society wants it. Ans she wants it, as her intern structure needs it.4 In this respect education is always conservative.
Hannah Arendt writes about this:
Conservatism, in the sense of preserving, is part of the essence of education. Isn’t the goal of education not always to cherish and protect: the child against the world and the world against the child, the new against the old and the old against the new?5 Education is needed for a child as a person, but always for that person as a part of society. But what is it that needs to be learned? Who is the best educator for a child? And what is the role of society in this? These are the questions that need to be answered next. All to often we take the answers to these questions for granted so that we don’t even ask those questions anymore. 6 What is to be learned?
If education is by and for this community, what should we teach and what should we learn? What knowledge do we want to pass on? What helps me to become a valuable member of my community?
Within our community reality is structured in a certain way. This structure determines what we consider to “be”. But with this “being” a “meaning” is given. It is not only a description but also a prescription. We prefer some values over others. We prefer certain behaviour. Objective knowledge is not possible. Knowledge and values are inseparable.7 Humans are givers of names. These names are not just arbitrary tags, either. In this giving of names there is an inherent calling. It is the calling of creatures and therefore the meaning of those creatures. It is a calling to fight against chaos, which always seems to prevail. Knowledge then becomes a way of creating structure. Passing on knowledge is the way to make our children tread the same path.
Then we have to ask ourselves if there is such a thing as absolute knowledge, meant to control reality. Cil Wigmans states this:
It seems to be a dilemma. The secularisation that took place in our western world in the past centuries is a blessing and a curse. It liberated us from the unjust claim of those who forced upon us, what they said God wanted. The powerful have come down from their thrones. But the meek didn’t come to power. Instead came the claim of the laws of nature, the power sui generis, or the will of people, that grant power far too often to those who promise mountains of gold (or as the bible says: golden calves). The wealth of Egypt is chosen over the dangers of the desert. These false powers are idols.8 Therefore we have to think of ways to structure chaos without praying to those idols. The best way to do that is by telling stories. Stories that stand in a long line of common, shared tradition. Therefore we need teachers that stand in this tradition themselves. On the other hand there is room in these stories for the listener, the receiver. The receiver will have to travel his own path.9 In the bible Psalm 78 gives us a beautiful example:
“He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. They would not be like their forefathers – a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him.” 10
The bible book Isaiah says:
“Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles.”11
Traditional education wants to create clones. It wants to copy the achievements of the past generations. It spasmodically maintains the existing order. But that is conservatism without any foundation, without a starting point. It has no moral point of reference. So we have to take it from a different perspective entirely. We have to choose a starting point in our worldview. Very early in the Old Testament the idea comes up that the Torah also opens the future. The biblical God is a God of history, but also of hope and renewal. In the perspective of psalm 78 carrying over tradition from one generation to another is not “look how well we have don and what we have achieved. We expect you to take over and do exactly the same.” No, it is about taking over the essentials of life from your ancestors and walk your own way. It is about handing over the essentials of life, knowing that perhaps you didn’t live up to it yourself. And you hope that your children will do better. Then you need to let go and give them the space to grow. It means that all of us, both old and young, have to go back again and again to the basic values of society.12 And this is not only important for individual persons. It is also important, perhaps even more so, for the entirety of society. We can make the future. We are called to act and create! More and more we have to realize that values are vital for society. We can not rule out these values. We have to try to live up to these values.
Of course there may be differences in opinion about the important values we have to learn. Recent examples have shown that small groups of fanatic religious people can damage society by teaching people to isolate themselves from their own society, or even worse: to fight against their own society. Therefore I have to keep in mind that our democratic society has to make laws for all inhabitants to keep. And because of this I have to take into account the historical and cultural background of the community and the society I am in.
Every child is born from a man and a woman. That is no moral statement but just a biological fact. Those 2 people than make the most logical primary educators. This is the core family of a father and a mother with one or more children.
From the beginning of a child’s life it is educated by these biologically attached people. It comes naturally. But this can never be enough. Not only because natural parents may be absent, but also because of choice.
From very early civilisations we can plainly see that there are always other people involved. The Greek had their pedagogues, slaves that could educate children. The Jews had their Beth ha Midrasj, the house of learning, apart from the synagogue. We in modern society have our schools.13 In all those places and times education was never purely transfer of objective knowledge or practical skills. Education has always been a vehicle for worldview aiming for the improvement of the community. Its aim is to make the new generation responsible members of that community.
The person that pretends to educate, opposes himself to the newcomer as responsible for the word. If his does not like this responsibility, he would better devote himself to something else, with which he does not stand in the way of someone. To make yourself responsible for the world is not the same as approving the world as it is. It means to accept the world in full awareness because she is and because one can improve it only by starting at what she is. 14 But in all this parents remain responsible for the education of the child. It is not the state, the church or any other institution that is primary responsible. Parents hand over some of the responsibility for education to others, but they are the ones that form the basis of education. Why? Because of love. The basis of a family is love. Unconditional love. Other people may give love, but that is not the same as the unconditional love that parents have for their children.
For the benefit of society?
I think that this is exactly the point where we begin to feel uncomfortable in modern society. More than ever we feel first of all that we are individuals. We want to be independent. We want to be unique. We don’t want to be part of a mass. We want to be free. We know what is good for ourselves and for our children. We don’t want anyone else to interfere and mess with that. We don’t want anyone else to spoil the loving care we give to our children. Society seems to be more of a threat than a benefit for our children.
This individualistic lifestyle reflects on the way we educate our children.
We, that is, in western society, also see our children as some kind of project, one way or the other. Furthermore, they are a very personal project.
This works in 2 ways:
1. Society now sees children as some kind of hobby. Even sometimes an old-fashioned kind of hobby. A hobby is one’s own choice, not something that society should be bothered by or spend money on. If people, and even more specific sometimes: women, want to have children, they have to bear the consequences of their choice, both in the sense of investment in time and money. This should not be a political concern, so is said.
Many of these individuals reject the very notion of a good society. Societies, they maintain, flourish when individuals are granted as much autonomy as possible.15 But this is a denial of society as a community. Society is not just a group of individuals, coincidentally living in the same time and place.
The communitarian paradigm … applies the notion of the golden rule at the societal level, to characterize the good society as one that nourishes both social virtues and individual rights.16 This has its consequences for public policy and public investments. I argue that education should be free, costless. In the end, by means of financing education, a society invests in its own existence and future. Seeing education as commodity that you can buy is wrong. If it works that way, the best education goes only to those that can pay for it, instead of to the ones that need it for the benefit of the community. It is wrong when schools see parents only as the people that pay for the education of their children; like some kind consumers. But did you know that much of a child’s achievement depends on good parenting? For good school achievement parent participation is even more important than the influence of the teachers.17
I call upon our governments: wake up! Invest in education. Invest in families and their support and invest in schools.
I call upon schools: be aware of your public task. Schools are not shops or factories.
I call upon teachers: get parents involved in you schools. Look for ways to cooperate in stead of separate! Parents are partners in education.
2. Even while we push our children away, at the same time we cling to them. Sometimes we even do so very possessively. We want them to be happy, and perhaps they should be, therefore we only want to be the best friends of our children and we spoil them rotten. The reason for this is that parents have no sense of direction themselves. We live in a culture of survival, where there is lack of common values. They become indifferent to the past, the present and the future. The only important thing seems to be that I feel well.
…There is a shift to be observed from authority to indifference. There is a therapeutization in the parent- child relation, wherein parents, without meaning of life for themselves, don’t pass on values and norms to their children.18 But avoiding authority and reality is not the way to happiness.
Authority is not something negative. Authority is not just giving orders. The word authority comes from the Latin word augere, which means “helping to grow”.
The reality principle is vital for this process of growing. It means the ability to temper your own lusts because of the others, and to postpone or temper the immediate satisfaction of certain desires in regard of the fulfilment of long term goals. It is clear that children lack the experience they need to see the ratio of this principle, and therefore they should be educated.19 I call upon all parents: grow up! Take some responsibility. Behave like real adults. Behave like mothers and fathers. Be aware of your own values and the meaning of live. Be aware that you are part of a community. You can neither hide from society on your self-created family island, nor can you expect your government or other formal authorities, not even teachers, to fix what you fail to do. You have to behave like partners in society. You can’t do it alone and neither can your neighbour. That is not hard to do. Educating together makes education even simpler. It takes all of the responsible people in a village to raise a child, for the benefit of our children and in the end also for the benefit of society. You are partners of our common future.
Jongma-Roelants, Toos en Peter Cuyver (Red.), 1995, Gezinnen van deze tijd – Kinderen, cultuur, rolpatronen, Kok, Kampen
Kennedy-Doonbos, Simone en Geert Jan Spijker (Red), 2008, Samen de schouders eronder – Christelijk-sociale visie op gezin en werk, Mr. G. Groen van Prinstererstichting – wetenschappelijk instituut van de ChristenUnie, Amersfoort
4 Durkheim Émile, 1956, Education and Sociology, Free Press
5 Ahrend, Hannah, 1968 Revised edition, Between Past and Future, Viking Press, New York
6 Ritzen, R, 2004, Filosofie van het onderwijs. Een analyse van acht hoofdvragen, Damon, Budel
7 See the explanation of the theory of Transcendent Critic by H. Dooyeweerd in Woudenberg, R. van (red.), 1996, Kennis en werkelijkheid. Tweede inleiding tot een christelijke filosofie, Buijten en Schipperheijn, Amsterdam
8 Wigmans, C.M., 2004, De oude wortels van het nieuwe leren. Bouwstenen voor geïnspireerd onderwijs, Scope scholengroep, Alphen aan den Rijn
9 Wigmans, C.M., 2004, De oude wortels van het nieuwe leren. Bouwstenen voor geïnspireerd onderwijs, Scope scholengroep, Alphen aan den Rijn
10 Psalm 78:5-8
11 Isaiah 40:31
12 Buijs, G., 2005, Spanning in de familie – een portret, Nederlands Dagblad
13 More examples you can find in Noordam, N.F., 1976, Inleiding in de historische pedagogiek, Wolters-Noordhoff, Groningen
14 Savater, Fernando, 1997, El Valor de Educar, Ariel, Barcelona. Dutch translation : 2006, De waarde van opvoeden, Bijleveld, Utrecht
15 Etzioni, Amitai, 1996, The New Golden Rule: Community And Morality In A Democratic Society, Basic Books, New York
16 Etzioni, Amitai, 1996, The New Golden Rule: Community And Morality In A Democratic Society, Basic Books, New York
17 According to the research of Sacker et al in Desforges, D., and Abouchaar, A., 2003, The impact of parental involvement on pupil achievement, DfES Research Report 433
18 Lodewijks-Frenken, Els, 1984, Op opvoeding aangewezen: een kritiek op de wijze van omgaan met kinderen in onze kultuur, Nelissen, Baarn
19 Savater, Fernando, 1997, El Valor de Educar, Ariel, Barcelona. Dutch translation : 2006, De waarde van opvoeden, Bijleveld, Utrecht