Philosophy of Education

Monday, January 30, 2006

Augustine's De Doctina Christiana or How will the Church Survive the fall of another Empire?

Here's a quick one:
Check out Augustine's De Doctrina Christiana. Piggy-backing off of Cicero's conception of education, Augustine believed the first and foremost task of education was to teach sapientia and eloquentia (wisdom and eloquence). I'm struck by how different this is today. In most schools, we engage in practices that lead children to believe there is no truth and we have completely lost appreciation for eloquence because rules of eloquence restrict creativity and individual expression. According to Augustine, wisdom without eloquence falls on deaf ears and eloquence without wisdom is extremely dangerous. In his day, Rome had give up on wisdom and embraced eloquence because it people could make money at sounding good. The orators and lawyers made all the money and the teachers made almost none. Sound a little like America? Guess what happened to Rome right after Augustine's hayday...that's right, the greatest power in the world fell to a bunch of uneducated barbarians. Is this a weak analogy or are the parallels between Rome and America too compelling to overlook? Guess who survived the fall of Rome? The Christians. Do you know why they survived? Because they were educated in the Augustinian tradition. Even the poor Christians were known as the learned ones to all the confounded Romans. Is the church in America doing enough when it comes to education? It seems not.

p.s. - I'm intentionally amping up my rhetoric so as to get a response.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Education and Community

Here's where I've been going recently with my thinking about education and community. It seems obvious to me that moral education takes place within concrete, particular communities. We pick up our values from these communities, and while we have some flicker of autonomy and can change our beliefs, our default moral settings come from the community we are raised in. In general, children raised in Christian communities will have Christian values (even if they don't abide by them) and children raised in secular communities will have secular values. Making a change in values usually results from moving into contact with a different community. Most Christian conversions happen when one person is brought into contact with a community of Christians who challenge their beliefs while showing them Christian values, like faith, hope, and love (for more on this, see Rodney Stark's The Rise of Christianity).

An interesting thing about communities is that we are part of many communities all at once and these communities, in large part, define who we are - how we answer the question, "Who am I?" I say, I'm a husband, which means I am a part of a matrimonial community. I say I'm a son and a brother, meaning I'm a member of a family. I say I'm a Christian, meaning I belong to a community of Christian believers and even more, that I commune with Jesus Christ. I'm also a United States citizen, a Texan (despite myself), a member of the philosophy department at Baylor, etc. These relations define my identity. Moreover, the define my moral identity. I am the person I am, I have the character I have, I act the way I act, based on how I understand myself in relation to others.

The interesting thing about communities and identity is that I place some communities above others when I think about who I am. I have loyalties to all my communities, but if my communities should ever conflict, I will remain true to the community that I value more. So, for example, I am first and foremost a Christian. That relation to Christ trumps all other relationships. It informs what kind of husband, son, brother, citizen, and graduate student I am. It is unlikely that my relation to Christ will ever get in the way of my other communities, but if it does, then I will have to give up my loyalty to those communities. If, for example, my country tells me I may not pray, then I must engage in civil disobedience. If I do not, then I am not a Christian. The way I put this in a recent paper I wrote is that we have some causes and communities that are at the focus of our understanding of ourselves and some that are on the periphery.

Now, when it comes to education, I already said we are formed by the communities we participate in. Why, then, would any reflective Christian parent send their children to be morally educated by an institution whose cause lies at the periphery of their and their childrens' identities? I'll say more later, but I hope this was provocative enough.

One disclaimer - I am not suggesting Christian adults get out of the public school system - that would be disasterous. But I am pondering the value of sending Christian children to public schools.

All these thoughts are tentative and I invite feedback.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Moral Education and Community

In upcoming entries, I hope to explore the connection between moral education and community. First, it will be necessary to say what I mean by moral education and what I mean by community. Then, I hope to lay out the philosophical terrain as I understand it thus far with regards to moral education and community. I will look specifically at four figures, John Dewey, William James, Josiah Royce, and Alasdair MacIntyre. Some of the questions I find interesting are: (1) Is it necessary that a school be a genuine community in order for there to be the possibility of moral education? (2) Is a public school a genuine community? (3) Is there such a thing as neutrality with regard to moral education or is it going on whether it is intended or not? (4) If neutrality is impossible, then what kind of moral education is possible in a public school? (5) What kind of moral education is possible in a private school?

Another topic I wish to explore is the conflict between John Dewey's progressive educational philosophy and Classical education. It seems to me that most people on either side of the conflict do not really see what is at stake. Classical educators, in particular, need to see that behind Dewey's philosophy of education is his theory of knowledge. Unless Dewey's theory of knowledge can be refuted, progressive education will continue to dominate the schools. Furthermore, in The Quest for Certainty, Dewey raises some major challenges for Classical epistemology that need to be answered by Classical educators. It is not enough for Classical educators to simply point to the failure of the schools and blame Dewey for all that has gone wrong. Dewey himself argues against much of the way his philosophy has been implemented in Experience and Education. I am very interested in Classical education, but I realize that the difficult epistemological questions Dewey raises must be dealt with before Classical education wille ever gain the kind of footing it needs if the movement is to be sustainable. In future posts I hope to address these very issues.