Renewing an Old Ideal of Education

Jun. 20, 2016
Shlomo Back, former president of Kaye College of Education, Israel, is a professor of philosophy of education and head of the M.Teach program. 
Zygmunt Bauman (2005), a famous sociologist who coined the term the "liquid society", observes that formal education is becoming irrelevant, even destructive to the needs of the next generation. Formal education is, by its very nature, conservative and stable. It aims to preserve and deliver to the new generation well-established ideas, ideals, values and attitudes which seem to have lasting significance. However, we live in a postmodern (or “liquid”) world in which the pace of the change accelerates daily. In our consumerist era, what is new is always better (because constant consuming is a condition to the formation of the post-modern man).

In such a condition, formal education loses its raison d'être. In the postmodern world, the status of knowledge is debatable, ethically-driven principles are doubtful, aesthetic evaluations are highly questionable, and even God is dead. But if one cannot rely anymore on any durable conception of “the Good", the "Beautiful" the "True" or the "Divine,” we may question whether education still has something valuable to offer the new generation.

Not surprisingly, the so called “crisis of education" is a widespread phenomenon in the Western world. In an age in which the written word is losing its priority to the image, and every stimulus should be as short, dynamic, colorful and noisy as possible, classroom experiences seem outdated and boring. The price for this anachronism is huge. Schools become more irrelevant than ever to real life and teachers lose their authority and influence on the children's lives.

This educational crisis cannot be addressed by enforcing a rigid accountability system. High-stake outcome measures are neither what students want nor what they deserve. Teaching, of course, is much more than a profession dedicated to enabling students to pass exams. It is even more than transmitting knowledge to the next generation. It requires devotion to the future of the students and their society. It involves the art of enhancing the students' well-being. In a Romantic flavor, the good teacher is an authentic person who cares for pupils and enhances their creativity, their critical stance, and their capacity for self-fulfillment (Back, 2012).
Following Aristotle (1984), MacIntyre (2007) and Sennett (2008). I propose that the teacher's goal (telos) is intrinsic to his professional activity (e.g., to foster learning), although teaching might have external aims as well. In a viable education process, each student is required to undertake a Bildung quest with the goals of developing his personal and cultural identity. In this journey, the learner addresses all available knowledge sources (Humanities, Arts and Sciences) to answer the question "who am I as a unique person and as a human being"?

To fully investigate this question, the individual should be ready to leave the safe shores of his usual habitus and delve into a self-identity quest (Serres, 1997). It is a nomadic process, which can be either physical or virtual, in any imaginable place and time. To be significant, this personal quest should be accompanied by a responsible, professional educator. And such a mission clearly changes the role of the teacher, who becomes a pedagogue in the original sense of the Greek term.

Thus, it is necessary to envisage a very different characterization of the teacher, which will address the real needs of the students in the 21st century. Such a teacher will address the question of "who am I? (Palmer, 1998). This teacher will question the moral basis of the society and suggest that solidarity and communality are no less significant than individuality, privatization and competition. This teacher will not conceive of humans as commodities, and for him, material wealth is not a guarantee of human happiness. He will probe whether equality is no less noteworthy than illusionary individual freedom, whether dialogue and tolerance are no less important than efficiency and material success.

As the former president of Kaye Academic College of Education in Beer-Sheva, I had initiated a teacher education program whose aim is to promote this vision in prospective teachers. ACE [Active-Collaborative-Education] is a teacher education program for post-graduate students conducted in Kaye. ACE's student is requested to wander in an unknown territory. He has no paved roads to follow and no predefined targets to conquer. He becomes a teacher, by understanding the meaning he gives to "teaching", "learning" and "students" (Back & Mansur, 2016).

In 2013, the program had been awarded as the best teacher education program in Israel. The number of candidates wishing to study in the program exceeds the number of available places, and the program's graduates are welcomed in the district's kindergartens and schools. The reason, I believe, is simple: the program deals with the teacher as a human being. And although it goes against the current trend of accountability, tests and measurement, it provides the schools and their pupils with the appropriate teacher for the 21st century.

Aristotle. (1984). Nicomachean Ethics (Ross, W. & revised by Urmson, J., Trans.). In J. Barnes (Ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle (The Revised Oxford Translation ed., Vol. 2, pp. 1729-867). Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Back, S. (2012). Ways of Learning to Teach. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
Back, S., & Mansur-Schachor, R. (2016). The "third" within ACE. In J. Barak & Gidron A (Eds.), Active Collaborative Education: A journey towards teaching. (pp. 149-67). Rotterdam: Sense.
Bauman, Z. (2005). Identity in the Globalized World. In H. Sapiro & D. E. Purpel (Eds.), Critical Social Issues in American Education (3 ed., pp. 443-54). Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
MacIntyre, A. (2007). After Virtue (3 ed.). Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Noter Dame Press.
Palmer, P. (1998). The Courage to Teach. San Francisco, Cal.: Jossey-Bass.
Seigel, J. (2005). The Idea of the Self. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press
Sennett, R. (2008). The Craftsman. London: Allen Lane.
Serres, M. (1997). The Troubadour of Knowledge (F. Faria Glaser, Trans.). Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.
von Humboldt, W. (2000). Theory of Bildung (Horton-Kruger, G., Trans.). In I. Westbury, S. Hopmann & K. Riquarts (Eds.), Teaching as a Reflective Practice: The German Didaktik Tradition (pp. 57-61). Mahhah, NJ.: Lawrence Erlbaum Ass..
Updated: Jun. 20, 2016