Nature versus Nurture |
Within the field of pedagogy there are two main schools of thought, the Classical Christian, and the Reformist Schools. These schools differ significantly on the role that morality education plays in the education of children, this difference of opinion will have a profound effect on the humanness of future generations.
Maie Tuulik is a professor of the philosophy of pedagogy in Estonia
HUMAN DEVELOPMENT AND EDUCATION
A child's development is always an unidirectional process, since the self-regulating laws of human nature have always been, and continue to be as rigid and unchangeable as the laws of nature.
Training and child rearing have always been imperative and indispensable to the functioning of a society, lest humans should become beasts. The development of individuals within a society directly affects the development of that society and indeed of the whole human race. Man lives in a society, a given culture and a given network of relations. Education, from a societal perspective, boils down to the transference of the experience, achievements and accomplishments of one generation to another. We are biological creatures not unlike animals; therefore, in the final analysis it is how we are brought up that will determine whether we will mature into noble and enlightened persons, or just ravenous beasts of prey.
Does nature exhibit examples of the raising of young in the sense of the education provided humans? There are indications in the animal world of parallel developments in that animals teach their offspring to perform certain tasks; this, however, is just an instinct-based activity. And although an animal can learn some new tricks through special training (conditioning, for example), these conditioned tricks will belong only to that particular animal's individual skills, and will expire with the animal; that is, they are not transmitted from one generation to the next. In human development, on the other hand, progress based on the experience of former generations is natural. There is widespread agreement that certain basic social values such as decency, kindness, loyalty, honesty, caring, etc. are nurtured not only by family life, but also the educational system, the media, and the church. Proof of the importance of the human environment and human experience in the development of a person into a human being is illustrated by feral children (children who have lost their humanness by growing up among animals). Man and animals develop in different ways. Man's development ascends from perceptive insight to conceptual thinking and purposeful will; whereas, an animal's development is directed at multiple supportive activities, adapting to the prevailing conditions of life. All these activities and adaptations may be accounted for by nutritional and sexual needs. Although man also has some instincts, which he obtains with conscientious learning, his development is not expected to stagnate or fixate at the beastly level. (Pöld 1993:15)
By building only on what the child has jus sanguinis (by birth) and only promoting that which comes naturally, we deprive the human child of true human spiritual values, the values that render it different from a beast. The imparting of human nature with spiritual values should rightfully be the most important role of education in human development, for these values lead us to the deepest questions of our history, our culture and ourselves. What this means is that the whole educational process-the different educational levels, different subjects in the curriculum, etc.-is only the means whereby man attains culture (i.e., the mastery of the values of human society), and ultimately discovers himself. To put it succinctly: we are born spiritually empty; it is only through nurture that we attain true humanness. Humanness, and ethics (in terms of valuation) stand in opposition to barbaric, bestial inhumanity.
TWO CONTRADICTORY APPROACHES TO PEDAGOGY
As we look at the role of education in human development we need to make a clear distinction between two different approaches to the science of education or pedagogy: classical Christian pedagogy (traditional pedagogy) and Reformist pedagogy (a pedagogy promulgated by educational reformers).
Classical Christian pedagogy is mostly concerned with the teaching of values (in fact, in terms of actual practice, pedagogy can never be a value-free, purely descriptive science). Only the one who perceives the essence of things can adopt the teacher's position. To add, he must also possess the knowledge of the goals to be attained. Pedagogy is both a science and an art. It is a science, because it has its own subject of research-education, which is not researched by any other science or field of study. It is an art, because education is a unique phenomenon calling for a creative approach and interpretative skills. The classical tenets and the repository of pedagogy are composed of the knowledge accumulated throughout the development of the whole human race. That knowledge is as old as humankind, because the development of man has always required, and will always require, purposeful direction, also known as nurture or upbringing.
The classical thinkers in pedagogy are the great teachers who through the centuries have promoted ethical behaviour in man. This and the gradual liberation of man from his own dark cravings and passions, animal instincts and lowly inclinations have been the main goal of education. In other words, by developing his individuality, man can be helped to become his own master (that is, be independent of external impressions and circumstances) become aware of his responsibility to live like a decent human being, and eventually become his own self.
"The supreme goal of life is the attainment of perfection of the soul." This was pronounced in classical antiquity by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and reiterated in the Middle Ages by St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas and by great thinkers of various nations in the modern age.
Estonians also have a classical thinker in Christian pedagogy. He is Peter Pöld (1878-1930), a star of the same magnitude in Estonia as Comenius is to the Czechs, Rousseau to the French, Pestalozzi to the Swiss, Herbart to the Germans, Tolstoy to the Russians, and Snellmann to the Finns.
The premise of classical thinking was that man is related to his creator, God, and that nurture and education exist to guide man to eternal values. That is, the goal of education is not merely instruction on how to sustain, how to endure, how to cope in the face of ever mounting challenges (to generally describe the main tenet of different trends of reformist pedagogy), it is much more than that: it is the improvement of the quality of man, guiding man to the true path of becoming an integral man.
Classical Christian pedagogy proceeds from an understanding of the hierarchical nature of values, which are absolute, eternal, and unchangeable. Furthermore, classical Christian pedagogy affirms that there is an ideal ethical man (Jesus Christ), that men and women must grow towards humanness, that the limits of behaviours allowed or prohibited are contained within the Ten Commandments (and in man's conscience), and that these limitations actually protect man, without curbing and encroaching on his freedom. The case is quite different in Reformist pedagogy.
Reformist pedagogy has a host of different names-child-centred, progressive, activities-oriented, freedom-based, or social pedagogy-as well as many different trends and streams. The very wording implies change, development and progress. However, it has become clear now, that in these many trends, the noble title of child-centredness notwithstanding, one has found oneself involved in activities detrimental to the child. For example, the anti-pedagogical trend which challenges the necessity of compulsory attendance at school;
Other examples are to be found among the proponents of "Black Education" where not only the school and teachers, but also the parents are prohibited from educating the child. According to Bloom (1987):
"Openness" is the only virtue, to which all primary education has dedicated itself to inculcate for more than fifty years. Openness, and the relativism that makes it the only plausible stance in the face of various claims to truth and various ways of life and kinds of human beings, is the great insight of our times."
An example of how far the advocates of the thesis "let children grow up by themselves" are willing to go, is found in the appeal, inter alia of Alice Miller, psychiatrist and ideologue of Black Education, to do away with "inherited taboos." According to her, the Fourth Commandment "honour thy father and mother" allegedly justifies parents in suppressing the natural and justified aggressive impulses of a child starting from the youngest and most vulnerable age. The transgression of that commandment would really be a quantum leap! There are no longer any generally venerated human values, they are all relative, depending on a particular individual in a particular situation at a particular point of time. Child rearing is seen as simply being manipulation, and therefore a heinous crime!
The language of values which has replaced the more traditional language of right and wrong, and good and evil, is itself symptomatic of the change. These values seem to be derived from the act of valuing. In other words, values can be interpreted as something which the individual has chosen and possesses, rather than something which the individual seeks and responds to. Self-chosen values are the essence of relativism, which is seen as the only rational stance in a pluralistic world where reason has been unable to establish a common moral base. (Habgood, 1990)
If tolerance is good, if to share the view of the group is good; if to enjoy life while you can is good, if, in addition, all men are free and equal and life is constantly changing and progressing, then there must eventually follow a loss a sense of order, of values and of limits. (Hogart, 1957)
CLASSICAL CHRISTIAN PEDAGOGY AND REFORMIST PEDAGOGY: TWO DIVERGENT PATHS
The basic difference between Classical and Reformist pedagogies, which makes it possible to speak of them in terms of two different paths, is how each approach addresses the issue of the link between man and God. For a world with God is basically different from one where God is absent.
In Estonia (and by far, not only there), at the state level it has been deemed as a given that the only pedagogical option is the Reformist one. The representatives of the Classical Christian approach are just hollow voices in the wilderness. Why is this so?
It is the reformer's common opinion that the science of education is outdated, and like any other science, the past is of interest to historians alone. It is believed that man has changed to such an extent over time that nothing useful is to be gained from studying the past, there are no lessons to be learned. Reformist pedagogues do not believe that human nature has remained the same through the centuries, rather they would argue that each and every one of us is begins anew; we, not past generations, determine our individual destinies in the present.
The real reason for dismissing a historically oriented science of education, however, is that for Reformist pedagogy God is extraneous to science. God is irrelevant, the relationship between God and man is non-existent.
It should be noted here, that the experiential background of Reformist pedagogy covers only a short period of the twentieth century. The repository of classical Christian pedagogy, however, holds the knowledge and wisdom of scores of centuries-from antiquity to the Christian era, from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment through to modern times. Furthermore, the school in Estonia, holding Estonian values, was also established in accordance to classical Christian principles. It should be kept in mind that Peter Pöld, a classical Christian pedagogue, was the chief ideologue of the development of our educational establishment. This establishment, which tided us over the Soviet period, is now entering a period of dismantling and demolition!
CLASSICAL CHRISTIAN PEDAGOGY VERSUS REFORMIST PEDAGOGY
According to classical Christian pedagogy, education is the process by which existing culture is passed on from one generation to the next. Those who have knowledge and experience teach, and those who lack knowledge and experience learn. For this process to be effective, a sense of authority and discipline must be in place. Education calls for teachers and parents to be in authority and for children to obey. Authority is, therefore, central to training and education. By no means should authority be confused with autocracy. Authority is followed and heeded through trust, love and the knowledge that the requirements and restrictions established by the teacher are necessary for one's safe development-lest the child perish prior to having made his start in life! Where authority is absent, crassness, insensitivity and cynicism take its place.
In Reformist pedagogy, education is nothing more or less than the provision of a faculty. The educator is like a good gardener, whose function it is to make healthy, fertile soil available in which a young plant can grow strong roots, through which it will extract the nutrients it requires. Furthermore, this young plant will develop in accordance to its own laws of being, which are far more subtle than any human can fathom, and will develop best when it has the greatest possible freedom to choose exactly the nutrients it needs. In other words, education calls for the establishment, not of discipline and obedience, but of freedom-the greatest possible freedom.
"Can we reasonably expect any sense of personal responsibility from obedient law-abiders or from those venerating authority?" query the proponents of Reformist pedagogy, expressing doubt and uncertainty. The response of classical Christian pedagogy is as follows: the child needs to be guided to freedom, because inherent in the nature of a child are contradictions of such magnitude that freedom for a part of his humanity will of necessity be accompanied by effective subjugation of the remaining part. If we let the child operate freely, he will never be an integral man, active in respect to himself, capable of mastering and holding in check his passions and desires. The more the biological ego wins the upper hand, the less capable, the more rudimentary the ethical, spiritual self. Too much freedom deprives youth of the support contained in strict rules. Whenever authority and obedience are disputed, the target of education-a free, autonomous man-is set at the initial point of education. Freedom is attained in the course of a protracted and strenuous path of development. The child is not mature enough to carry the burden of responsibility attached to freedom. He needs time to mature, not unlike the colt, who, having not attained an arbitrarily designated age, will not therefore be harnessed to pull the load.
Under the classical Christian approach, the value of man does not reside in his biological existence, but rather in the higher standards of conduct and morality generated by education-the ethicalness of man, his conscience, the internalised realm of values, unique to man.
Without piety, there is no society, piety being the uppermost basis of education and culture. When it is lacking, the opposites teem-openly insolent or disrespectful behaviour, utter disregard and stiff-necked rejection of moral persuasion. Piety can be sustained only by him who nurtures it (Pöld 1993: 74).
So, the sense of shame, decorum and neatness are also acquired by education. A child lacks inner brakes with respect to many proceedings or if he possesses them, those barriers are weak. Children learn and habituate quickly. They are easy to spoil and corrupt. If their perception of honour and shame is dislodged, they will never make decent citizens for they have evolved different instincts, mentality and values. Thus if education nips the spiritual world in the bud, it is just sheer sin (or tragedy).
WHY CASTING ASIDE CLASSICAL CHRISTIAN PEDAGOGY IS FRAUGHT WITH SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES
If a child's upbringing is centred solely on instruction on how to subsist, on know-how, on technique, on the use of instruments, etc.-meaning the processes and phenomena external to man-who will teach the child how to be a human being?
Let us just take a look at what is happening around us, at what our environment is offering us. One would hope that Children who are liable to only see the seamy side of life around them, would also see the brighter side of life, the life of ideals, and permanent values in school. Now if the behaviours emulated at home, at school, among friends, by public opinion, the mass media, fashion etc. were worthy of copying; if they offered positive experiences, which goaded one to equitable deeds and conduct and to goodness, we would be entitled to presume that certain human Christian values would not need to be inculcated by special efforts. Deplorably the situation is quite the opposite. The mass media floods us with the violence, gross injustice and cruelty reflecting life like it is around us. Due to a mounting divorce rate, which surpasses even that of marriage, the home does not offer security and love. Meanwhile the rat race for success presses us relentlessly forward. We are trampling on ne'er-do-wells and dropouts vying for the competitive edge. How long will we as a society last, if the current generation only lives off of the successes garnered by the virtues of its forebears, and fails to incorporate those values and virtues in its own life and the life of its offspring? Is it really only the task of Sunday Schools and a scant number of enthusiasts? Why does instruction at school shy, panic stricken, at God and Christian teaching?
We have reached an age that can be characterised with the word moronism-a state where the faculty of judgement is particularly underdeveloped. A schoolteacher of merit recently concluded his article "Beware moronism!" with a scary statement-moronism is a tumour infesting the State of Estonia. Similarly, a well-known BA professor concluded his essay; "God save Estonia, if the governmental officers and businessmen who subconsciously crave dictatorship prevail in public and business administration" (Mõtus, 2000). We are being warned against people who lack conscience, whose idols are market share and the profit margin, and in whose opinion morality is rubbish, something needed by only the weak and poor. According to Tammsaare, who wrote ironically: "The poor and the weak emphasise their rights and hence talk about morality-the rich and the powerful need none of that stuff" (1921).
I'd like to refer the well-known Estonian writer Ristikivi,
One needs ideals. A question suggests itself-what ideals? The fact that such a question is posed at all is not really surprising given today's all-pervasive ungodliness. The answer to the question, like the ideals themselves, will not be found in the attic or just anywhere. The ideals related values of humanity have matured together with humanity over thousands of years, it is a hopeless undertaking to establish new ones, nor is there a need therefor. We must rescue them from the past. Importing the values of the past into the present is the only feasible programme." (1996: 453)
Habgood, J., "Are moral values enough?" British Journal of Educational Studies, No. 2, 1990.
Hoggart, R., The Uses of Literacy (London, 1957).
Bloom, A., The closing of the American mind (Penguin, 1987).
Mõtus, L., Mis on hea ja mis on halb (Õpetajate Lcht, 10.03.2000).
Põld, P., Üldine kasvatusõpetus (Tartu, 1993).
Ristikivi, K., Viimne vabadus (Tartu, 1996).
Tammsaare, A.H., Ärist ja inimestest (1921).
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Maie Tuulik: Nature versus Nurture
Text (c) Humanness Symposium, 2000.
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