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Response to 'Education' by Geoff Hall

Dear Andrew & Thinknetters,

A few thoughts on Andrew's pages 'Education from a Dooyeweerdian Perspective'.

[I have added headings and emphases and made hyperlinks to the original, but the text is exactly as GH sent it in his email of 2 August 2002. AB]

On Purpose


What is the purpose of education? To increase an organization's or nation's competitiveness? To enhance an individual's employability? To develop individual skills? To impart knowledge of various subjects? To create good citizens? To teach critical thinking? To inculcate values?

Nick Wolterstorff, in his book Art in Action said of art, that it was a mistake to state that art has a purpose, because it has many. This would be my response with regard to education too. To give education a purpose would lead to a severe limitation and misdirection of it, but I will restrict my response to two reasons/purposes for the sake of economy. So for the purpose of our discussion I'd say that education is for the development of knowledge of the world/creation and of self-knowledge (my place in the world etc). From that point onwards you can talk of 'employability', organisational 'competitiveness' etc., but they should be the fruits of a good education and not the reason for it!

Aspects and Educational Subjects

HD - in Roots [of Western Culture] - nicely linked the aspects to subjects for us. (p.41)

They are basically the fields investigated by the various modern special sciences: mathematics, the natural sciences (physics and chemistry), biology (the science of organic life), psychology, logic, history, linguistics, sociology, economics, aesthetics, legal theory, ethics or moral science, and theology which studies divine revelation in christian and nonchristian faith. [but no mention of Geography!]

Interdisciplinarity in Education

I've worked on the relationship between subjects, or lack of them, in England's National Curriculum and tried to develop the cultural context (and succeeded, if I dare say so) in terms of narrative formations of dialogue between them, aided and abetted by Cal Seerveld (cartographic historiography), Jerome Bruner (on narrative construal), Nick Wolterstorff (on art's many purposes), HD (on naive knowing), Michael Polanyi (on knowing as a communal activity). Our problem in England is the bureaucratic 'tick-box' approach to knowledge, that reduces teachers to classroom administrators, there to ensure 'progress' is maintained, for example, moving from Impressionism to Cubism and thence to Abstract Expressionism as a kind of linear development/movement in art. This falls short of helping the pupil/student in the creation of self-knowledge and a knowledge of the world, based on their 'community's' worldview (in the light of other construals too).

I've attempted to change this (theoretically) by creating a role for the teacher as the narrator of a story of cultural directions and misdirections, in the light of the context of the cultural artefact and their effect on the development of societal institutions, to reflect the held values of the dominant (synchronic) worldview, but also of other perchronic w/views that operate as an alternative to the mainstream. Art isn't created by artists alone (in a vacuum), the creative process is (was) a dialogical affair in the cultural dynamic of the Movement. (Thinking about it, it would be interesting to look at the kinematic aspect and use this to give a little understanding of cultural motion.) Ideas have legs, and the artists symbolically objectifies them.

With this in mind I create a sort of cultural map and look at the developments of a particular epoch, as narrative is time based, and look for movement and counter-movement within that period. But the narrator is there not to point out a linear movement or progression through time, but the driving force(s) behind these developments. As well as this aspect of Dooyeweerd's 'why' of history, rather than focussing on the 'what'; knowledge of the world and how it works is gained as the story develops. 'Curriculum conversations' are created between say, art, history, literature, music, theatre and so on, to show this sense of objectification. The narrative structure also allows the pupil/student to place themselves within the story, as they identify with the characters, settings and events, which can facilitate personal development/knowledge. (You can see the grounding for this in my thesis, which if anyone is interested, should be available on an inter-library loan from the University of Exeter library: 'The Teaching of Art & the Cultural Dimension', Sept 2001).

In the context of socio-political activity, this coordinate can give the social background to what is being responded to at that time; whether the bourgeoisie's response to growing collectivisation and democracy, at the latter end of the 19th century in Europe, or the humanists debunking of the Church's grip on social institutions in the Revolutionary years. It is a good tool to show a movement's ultimate commitments (pistic sense) and the direction this will give to the cultivation (good, bad or indifferent) to God's good creation!

Taking all of this into consideration, it is a radical shift in the educational paradigm, because I haven't wanted to limit myself to moving round the educational furniture, but to create new pieces to adorn the room.

On Student-Teacher Relation


Do teachers have authority? Or should we treat education as a partnership between student and teacher? Dooyeweerd would affirm both if we look at the multi-aspectual process of educating and being educated.

A lot is made out of this thing called authority and evangelical christianity seems fixated on it, whether in the 'spiritual' realm, or in the temporal relations within a church (broadly given as men should have it and women shouldn't!). [Note: Both GH and AB are of the evangelical wing of Christianity, and hence criticise where we see it awry.] This kind of 'lording it' over things is not where I think we should be going and is a misconstrual of creational stewardship. Yes, a narrator has 'authority' over the narratee as one who is telling a story, but a lordly exercise of power restricts the growth of self-knowledge etc.. Henri Nouwen talked about 'creating space' for pupils to learn, as guests not as owned intellects or persons. Moving from lordly hostility to servant hospitality is what he perceives as a necessary step for education to take.

Too Concept-Oriented


To Dooyeweerd, each aspect provides a distinct way of knowing. A full education therefore is to develop both skill and conceptual knowledge (theories, classifications, methods, rules, etc.) in each aspect. ... Education should occur everywhere. Especially at home and in the local community. Yes, even the 'advanced' topics can be mediated via these. However, since conceptual content is very important to education, much of this is still best done via school.

I've cobbled these two paragraphs together, because I think it reveals a particular perception of knowledge and education, which I don't think I agree with as the raison d'etre of education. We gain a different education in school, college, and life(?) But the above cites conceptual knowledge as the paradigm to follow. Dooyeweerd informs us that naive knowing of the world is the everyday realm experience for people and not the conceptual, philosophised and analysed version. This being the case, Bruner asks why we don't develop a narrative (naive) way of teaching children when we spend most of our time in that realm. It doesn't mean that there is no room for a scientific deepening of knowledge, but that the primary thrust is a cultural storytelling that develops different personal skills and identity forming. This is a world away from conceptual-based education. How do you gain self-knowledge conceptually? Our knowledge of God is not a concept and therefore neither is self-knowledge, which as Calvin pointed out only comes from a true knowledge of our Creator/Owner. The above view of education seems to me to be a little too 'scientific'.

[In response to that, AB reworded the original.]

One final observation was with regard to 'education in each aspect' and that a number of the qualifications/benefits of the various aspects were ethical. (lingual, social, pistic), which isn't how I think HD would phrase the 'nuclear moment'. Maybe the benefits would be more in line with this than an aspect's ethicising? Just a thought. [AB responds: I'm not sure what GH means; the benefits were not 'ethical' as such, but rather along the lines of the Shalom Hypothesis.]

Anyway, these represent a very few thoughts on the broad subject of education. I hope there are not too many typos!



This page is part of a collection that discusses application of Herman Dooyeweerd's ideas, within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome.

Written on the Amiga and Protext.

Copyright (c) 2002 Geoff Hall. All rights reserved, and used by permission.

Created: 5 August 2002 from GH's email. Last updated: 7 September 2013 .nav, .end, rid unet.