I think I would like to blog primarily about education, teaching, and learning. As I explained in my first post, though, I think that in order to do this, I need to first make clear what my views on the purpose of education is, and to do that, I feel that I need to lay out the philosophical framework upon which all of my other beliefs are built. If I don’t do this first, each time someone queries or criticises a view I have about a particular educational idea, or teaching technique, I know I’ll find myself trying to justify it by explaining everything it’s built upon – so I thought it made sense to make the foundations clear first, so that I can just refer back to them, rather than explain them anew each time. (Having said that, if you want to skip to them, my views on the purpose of education are at the end.)
I’ve often thought about, but never succeeded in, putting down in black and white my views on truth overall. It’s something I’ve toyed with in RS lessons, when I’ve encouraged my students to have a go at it themselves (more on that in the future!) but I’ve never written anything more lasting than a mind-map on a whiteboard, so here we go.
Being as concise as possible, currently (because I’m not ruling out the possibility that some of these views might change in the future), I would sum up my views like this:
- Metaphysics: There is objective truth; I’m definitely not an anti-realist. I currently think I’m a property dualist/I believe in hylomorphism (from what I understand of it, though I’m not sure I’ve understood it correctly yet), but I’m not sure, and I’m not ruling out idealism. I’m convinced that materialism and scientism are inadequate theories to explain the nature of reality. I believe in God and assent to the Nicene Creed. God is Truth, Beauty, Love, and Goodness. These are all equivalent to one another. The material universe (or the immaterial universe, if it turns out that idealism is correct) is fundamentally good.
- Epistemology: Reason, senses, scripture, intuition, and conscience are all imperfect sources of, or tools to find, truth, i.e. authorities. Used properly and together though, they allow us to reach objective truth as far as is humanly possible. Different authorities are needed for different types of truth (e.g. conscience including reason is useful for discerning moral truth, whereas the scientific method is useful for discovering physical truth). There is some certain knowledge.
- Anthroplogy: A human person is a composite body and soul; body and soul are not two different ‘substances’ that have been somehow stuck together and interact. A human person exists from the moment of conception. All people are of infinite and equal moral value. There is an indefinable common human nature. Human nature is good, but all people are imperfect.
- Aesthetics: Objective beauty exists. I haven’t studied this enough to have a thoroughly informed and justified opinion, but I am convinced that objective beauty exists, and that some art, music, literature, objects, architecture, is better than other art etc. Which examples of art etc. are better than others should certainly be debated.
- Ethics: Morality is objective (but this doesn’t mean that what’s correct in one situation is correct in another – wearing a bikini on a beach in Spain may be objectively morally acceptable, but wearing one to school is not.) Generally I think natural moral law is a good ethical framework, when used in conjunction with virtue ethics. The initial cause of this belief is my upbringing, but Plato’s reasons for believing in an objective goodness, G.E. Moore’s ‘open question,’ and Newman’s and Lewis’ writing on conscience and morality have made me sustain this view. The purpose of each human life is to fulfill its good, God-given nature. In other words, the purpose of each person’s life is to be fully and truly themselves; to flourish and be fulfilled. Experiencing truth, goodness, beauty, and love is part of this fulfillment; learning is also therefore part of this fulfillment. Evil is an absence of goodness, and is experienced when something or someone is failing (for whatever reason) to fulfill its purpose/nature. In other words, evil doesn’t exist in itself, only as as a privation of goodness.
- Politics and economics: I’m really not well-informed enough to make strong claims here. As a general rule, I think politicians should have solid training in philosophy, ethics, the scientific method, and their own area of service. In general I’m supportive of democracy, but it has a lot of issues (not least that the majority of a population doesn’t necessarily know what’s good). Neither communism nor capitalism seems ideal; I’m interested in the theory of distributivism, but don’t know enough about it to comment (yet). Political and economical systems should (somehow) put people and the environment before money. I have little issue with politicians being drawn from a small pool of schools, iff those schools are the only ones producing suitable politicians; I have major issues with a school system that’s not functioning well enough to produce suitable politicians from all walks of life.
My views on education fit in with and/or flow from all of the above. Some principles that I believe in, for example are (to borrow a few clichés), that knowledge has intrinsic value; students should be exposed to the best of what’s been thought and said; students should be encouraged to stand on the shoulders of giants; all students can learn, and can learn to love learning; all students should study philosophy and ethics; beauty is found in many forms, and therefore dance, theatre, music, visual art, and so on, are necessary; real human fulfillment means physical flourishing as well as intellectual, emotional, and moral flourishing, and so physical exercise in some form is necessary; students should form their own opinions (general apathy is an evil), but opinions should be informed, and conclusions drawn from as thorough a study of existing human knowledge as possible; different types of truth are discovered through different authorities, and so students should be taught how to use and train their reason, senses, and conscience; and where possible and appropriate, scientific evidence should inform teaching practice. Education absolutely should not be undertaken for purely utilitarian reasons, unless by ‘utilitarian reasons’ one means the genuine flourishing of both the individual and society.
Education in some form is a necessary part of the path to human fulfilment, and it is a search for truth. Fundamental to my beliefs is the fact that truth, goodness, beauty, and love, are all in some way equivalent, and exist objectively. The whole of humanity has been involved in a conversation about what truth is, in one way or another, for the most (or perhaps all) of its existence. Students today in school need to realise that they’re joining in this conversation, this search.
I know, of course, that many (most!) people disagree with my views, and not one of the statements I’ve made in the bullet points above hasn’t already been debated and wrestled with for years, and so I know that I could get immediately side-tracked by discussing the views listed above instead of my ideas relating to education. Still, I’d like this blog to be primarily education-focused (even if with a philosophical, religious, and/or ethical slant). We’ll just see where it goes, though. Like I said, I think the whole search for truth is like one huge conversation of humanity, and this, I suppose, is my contribution to it.