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Education – past and present…how about the future of it? (Contd. article)

Welcome (back)! My discussion on education will take us today to Mandela’s thoughts on the subject…

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  1. Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

As with Einstein, the life and works of this world leader of global peace and harmony are also surrounded by studies to such broad and comprehensive scope that I see no need to revisit those areas within the context of my essay. In fact, Mandela is known beyond any significant gaps of information that a collection of his statements on education will suffice to help us remember his intelligence and timeless vitality on global scale.

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[Photo: Reuters]

With his assertion that twins with Plutarch’s, the following Mandela announcement needs no interpretation:

There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children (Valerie Strauss, “Nelson Mandela on the power of education” in: The Washington Post).

Centering his thought around the future of humanity – children yet once again, the human perfection declares his lesson. And it is impossible to disregard his uniting reference to children at large, not as members of any particular cultural group but rather all within one empowering embrace (“our children”):

The power of education extends beyond the development of skills we need for economic success. It can contribute to nation building and reconciliation. Our previous system emphasized the physical and other differences of South Africans with devastating effects. We are steadily but surely introducing education that enables our children to exploit their similarities and common goals, while appreciating the strength in their diversity (Strauss, “Nelson Mandela”).

As were he to be strolling down the Agora with philosophers of Ancient Greece – with the likes of Socrates or Plutarch, Mandela delivers his own lecture on poetry’s impact on character:

A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special (Strauss, “Nelson Mandela”).

Mandela leads us to realize that matters of humanity haven’t much changed since the period of Ancient Greece, since 19th or 20th century-Europe, or in the 21st century:

No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite (Strauss, “Nelson Mandela”).

‘Love for noble labor and the works of virtue,’ are lines from Plutarch I repeated in this essay twice before. With Mandela’s thought of “love” we are only nearer to a better understanding of the ancient teaching aim. This human perfection declares it as a life value to be taught.

The concept of education as I have outlined in this essay, assigns educators the responsibility of helping students lead a richer and fuller life and developing their mental and spiritual qualities to the ultimate. But in the face of such conclusion, we must bear in mind all along what the referent itself, “education,” does not entail. Or, how fluid the boundaries are in the role distribution between an “educator” and a “student.” Isn’t the entire dynamics, rather, all about who first attains the higher level of consciousness in order to begin to enable the other to recognize humans’ interdependency to one another?

One is urged at this point to consider what the future of education may hold for the future of humanity. Two possibilities emerge as objects for potential deliberations, none as subjects of first-time introduction: an educational theory embedded in the shores of non-revolutionary lands and another one housing on the marginal isles of meditative trainings. The discussion in this final stage of the paper will be – as inherent in its purpose – more speculative than open for scientific affirmation, especially when immediacy were to be of demand.

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I remain with the hope of your return visit next Sunday for the final section of my deliberations on the state of education: past, present and future. May the rest of your Sunday and your new week be wonderful in every aspect. 

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Education – past and present…how about the future of it? (Contd. article)

(Continued article from last Sunday)

3. Treatise on Poetry, History and Education

For Plutarch, poetry and history constitute the integral elements of Academic philosophy. Poetry and education, then, in the view of this ‘humanist par excellence’ (Encyclopedia Britannica), complement one another:

The Spartan, when asked what he taught, replied: I make honourable [sic] things pleasant to children (PL MOR 6. P9).

This way is the one to help pupils take through their learning toward Plutarch’s ultimate aim and accordingly, carries heavy responsibility in their own improvement of their character:

The memory of children should be trained and exercised; it is the storehouse of learning and the mother of the Muses (PL MOR 1 P45).

Young pupils, Plutarch believes, must be given training in reading poetry, though beyond the metaphorical in order to realize this art will impact character formation and development in the matter people desperately need it later in their lives:

Let poetry be used as an introductory exercise to philosophy. Those who train themselves to seek the profitable in what gives pleasure and to be dissatisfied with what has nothing profitable in it learn discernment, the beginning of education (PL MOR 1 P81).

When pupils “pass from ostentation and artifice to discourse which deals with character and feeling[,]” proclaims Plutarch, “they begin to make progress (PL MOR 1 P421).” By becoming aware on the basis of poetry’s selected principles of their own capability to achieve a higher form of themselves, they will then be able to advance upon a state of being where they can materialize those principles, from which point to enter the path to virtue. Once they achieved that state of being they have attained by themselves, he asserts further, they can contribute to the improvement of others:

Menedemus remarked that: the multitudes who came to Athens to study were at the outset wise; later they became lovers of wisdom; later still orators, and as time went on, just ordinary persons and the more they laid hold on reason the more they laid aside their self opinion and conceit (PL MOR 1 P435).

In the statement above, we see once again the essence of Plutarch’s principle regarding the need for the concurrence of nature, habit and reason in order for the education of character to be achieved. Hence, the interrelated components of the concept behind philosophical education: poetry and history as the two irreplaceable cores of the same element that fine-tunes character. How befitting is the following Plutarch statement, when his ideal of training statesmen from their childhood on is taken into consideration:

We should choose a calling appropriate to ourselves, cultivate it diligently and let the rest alone (PL MOR 6. P215).

And how succinct is his definition of the correctly educated statesman:

Arouse a man to emulate his better self (PL MOR 1 P383).

4. Influence

As stressed at the onset of this article, Plutarch, a phenomenon of human history prompted the development and advancement of essay writing and essayist texts. Far beyond such influence, however, he also left his impact on the emergence of the genres of biography and historical writing (Encyclopedia Britannica). His academic and philosophical presence in Europe is said to have stayed at its peak from the 16th through the 19th century the least.

His literary impact on following generations of authors has been immense: Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, Ben Jonson, William Shakespeare, John Dryden, John Milton, Robert Herrick, George Chapman, Jonathan Swift, Walter Savage Landor, William Wordsworth, Robert Browning, Mary Shelley, and H.G. Wells in England; Ralph Waldo Emerson and Herman Melville in the United States; J.W. von Goethe and Friedrich von Schiller in Germany; and French drama of the late 16th and the entire 17th century; Jacques Myot’s introduction of Plutarch to Sir Thomas North, and Shakespeare’s three plays sourced by Sir Thomas North’s English translation of Lives and from then on, the entire English-speaking regions of the world (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

 Plutarch.LivesXYZ

[Photo: Wikipedia]

When compared to other Ancient Greek philosophers, Plutarch is not viewed as a profound figure in the field of philosophy. While he may not have added a new component to the arena of philosophy at large, scholars assert that he was instrumental in enabling his students and the public to comprehend the established systems – and not only in Greece but wherever he traveled. I join many critics who see in him ‘a humanist par excellence’ – and therefore justify the extensive space I reserve in my essay on the discussion of his relevant accomplishments as an educator serving humanity.

 (Next Sunday, Gilbert Keith Chesterton and Plutarch’s Academic Philosophy)

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Education – past and present…how about the future of it?

My ailments that had their onset mid-July of this year and had continued through mid-August finally left me on the path to my healing process. Before things went out of control for my health, I had worked on an article for the Inner Child Magazine to be published in August, for which issue I was the Cover Feature. The issue has, of course, been published as scheduled. The article was/is about a topic dear to my heart (and of my lifelong dedication as well as commitment); namely, “education.” Today, I will start sharing with you my deliberations on this subject matter but will do so in several installments – as the text is quite long.  I very much hope you will take interest in how I approach this topic and make subtle suggestions for its re-conceptualization/s. I will follow the same principle with my posts as I had done a while ago with my short story: initially, in smaller sections but then once all text is complete, all at once – in case, you may still prefer to have read the entire article all at once. Please stay tuned. I would love to have you visit again. May your Sunday and your new week bring all that you would wish for yourselves.

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 A FIRE TO IGNITE

 RIGHT AT THE ARTICLE'S ONSET.250px-Plutarch

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be ignited.”

[Photo: Wikipedia]

 

RECONCEPTUALIZING EDUCATION

Are we to conclude from the Plutarch statement above, the Greek academic, historian, biographer, and essayist merely referred to learning for the sake of his pupils regurgitating information he delivered to them? Note his emphasis on what the mind is not. With urgency, then, a question rises: How does one provide the flame?

Written history demonstrates time and again to what extent the humankind relies on the knowledge and wisdom of its ancestors. When the subject is as challenging of a matter to a century as education is to ours, we need the access to specific branches of those historical libraries. Hence, the reappearance in this article of a most prominent educational philosopher scholarship has explored: Plutarch of Chaeronea.

To begin with, for me to speak through Plutarch in the present format has everything to do with his documented influence on the evolution of the essay genre. His more than 60 essays of ethical, religious, physical, political and literary contents out of his total 227 works are claimed to have had a strongest impact on his contemporaries but especially on the ensuing generations.

There is a multitude of related areas we can explore, or we can delve into as many details as we could draw from available sources. The fact will remain that all data are incomplete. For, what is known about Plutarch’s life constitutes a reconstruction work. Therefore, we will focus on my point of concern: education as conceptualized outside the term’s modern-day boundaries.

ANCIENT GREECE: PLUTARCH AND HIS ACADEMIC PHILOSOPHY

  1. Early Life, Schooling and Family

 

Ancient Greece.Southern Regions

 

 Physical Map of Greece

[Photos: Free Images Online]

 

Plutarch’s birth year is given as AD 46. Regards the time when his death occurred, sources dwell on a date after 119. He is believed to have been born to a prominent family in Chaeronea in Boeotia, Greece (arrow-highlighted in the first picture above) and his immediate family (parents, two brothers and a grandfather) as well as extended relations are described as happy and close-knit people. He is recorded as having received a liberal education at the Academy of Athens, studying physics, rhetoric, mathematics, medicine, natural science, philosophy, Greek, and Latin literature. In his effort to bring his education to completion, Plutarch is said to have traveled extensively in Greece and Asia Minor, with visits to Alexandria, Egypt as well (bio.).

There is not much information about this educational philosopher’s wife, other than her name –Timoxena, and her father’s name. While the dates are a blur, one wonders, if it weren’t the deaths of many of his children that prompted Plutarch to his deliberations on theosophy: out of the four sons and one daughter only two sons survived him and his wife. His letter of consolation to Timoxena is most poignant in its mediation to scholars of this prominent world figure’s life-altering events (see cited work section for a link to the entire letter in translation):

AS [sic] for the messenger you dispatched to tell me of the death of my little daughter, it seems he missed his way as he was going to Athens. But when I came to Tanagra, I heard of it by my niece. I suppose by this time the funeral is over. I wish that whatever has been done may create you no dissatisfaction, as well now as hereafter. But if you have designedly left anything alone, depending upon my judgment, thinking better to determine the point if I were with you, I pray let it be without ceremony and timorous superstition, which I know are far from you.

Only dear wife, let you and me bear our affliction with patience. I know very well and do comprehend what loss we have had; but if I should find you grieve beyond measure, this would trouble me more than the thing itself. For I had my birth neither from a stock nor a stone; and you know it full well, I having been assistant to you in the education of so many children, which we brought up at home under our own care. This daughter was born after four sons, when you were longing to bear a daughter, which made me call her by your own name. Therefore I know she was particularly dear to you. […] (Plutarch Letter).

 Plutarch Bust.Priest

[Photo: Free Images Online]

  1. Work

Plutarch’s life was marked with his commitment to education. He is known to have taught in Chaeronea, also lecturing in Rome as well as in other parts of Italy on philosophy and ethics (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). His Moralia, a collection of his lectures, letters and dialogues offers the reader his treatments of an array of subjects, one of which has my concentrated attention in this essay: Academic philosophy.

It is no irony that a saying, “[c]haracter is destiny[,]” originates from Plutarch – foremost a moralist striving to illustrate the influence of character on destinies of individuals and state. His measurement of character entails conducts in war, in politics, and in love. This key concept of designing the human character stands in direct relation to the discussion at hand. In his ethical prescription for life, Plutarch pronounces the following lesson for his pupils:

There must be a concurrence of three things to produce perfectly right action: nature, reason and habit (PL MOR 1 P9. Ancient/Classical History).

The “habit” to which he refers, reveals the emphasis he places on education’s role in bettering a human being: “Character is habit long continued (PL MOR 1 P13).” His following claim sheds a brighter light on this thought:

So that we might acquire a habit of mind that is deeply trained and philosophic, rather than the sophistic that merely acquires information, let us believe that right listening is the beginning of right living (PL MOR 1 P259).

Where does reason, the third element of Plutarch’s character-building system, then, come into play? He answers as in the following:

When the intelligence of the new student has comprehended the main parts, let us urge him to put the rest together by his own efforts, using his memory as a guide and thinking for himself. The mind does not require filling like a bottle (PL MOR 1 P257).

Any statement he makes in Moralia accentuates his central idea behind the role of education for humanity:

While we take pains that children should eat with the right hand, we take no pains that they should hear the right instruction (PL MOR 1 P23).

The “right instruction” for Plutarch entails character building in his students – candidates for future statesmen. Hence, he fine combs through the conditions of their treatment throughout their learning process:

Children ought to be led to honourable [sic] practices by means of encouragement and reasoning and certainly not by blows or ill treatment (PL MOR 1 P41).

That precise preparation of the circumstances will result in, as he asserts with conviction, the desired makings of history:

Dull minds are content to learn the outcome, or general drift of history. The student fired with love of noble conduct and the works of virtue sees much chance in outcomes and is more delighted with the particulars of history where actions and their causes detail the struggles between virtue and vice (PL MOR 7. P373).

In another section of his Moralia, once again, Plutarch lays dramatic emphasis on what education should not be about – simultaneously, underlining a serious dilemma of our times:

Children must be given some breathing space from continuous tasks; the whole of life is divided between relaxation and application. Rest gives relish to labour [sic] (PL MOR 1 P43).

‘Love for noble labor and the works of virtue’: two vital ingredients today’s educational systems lack at large.

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Next week, Plutarch’s “Treatise on Poetry, History and Education” and on his “Influence.” I hope you will stay tuned for those sections and more to come…

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