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It’s been an interesting academic year for conversations about educational matters.
Between the systemic COVID disruptions, the frenzied debates about online models of education, curriculum assessments, and consultations with faculty and school administrators about curriculum and learning, attending conferences for academic educators and administrators, three things at least are evident:
(1) education is an important enterprise to a lot of people, (2) education can generate its share of anxiety, and (3) few seem certain about what it’s all about anyway (and, how to go about it post-COVID).
One renowned educator wrote:
“In modern times, people’s views about education differ.
There is no general agreement about what the young should learn in relation to moral virtue or success in life; nor is it clear whether education should be more concerned with training the intellect or the character.
Contemporary events have made the problem more difficult, and there is no certainty whether education should be primarily vocational, moral or cultural.
People have advocated all three. Moreover, there is no agreement as to what sort of education promotes moral virtue.”
The author of that observation is Aristotle (Polities VII).
Which goes to show that the Preacher was, in some respect, right: there is nothing new under the sun.
We may think it quaint that Aristotle situates his comment in “modern times.”
Today people like to situate their observations (about anything and everything) in “postmodern times” or “post-colonial” times.
But they are addressing the same perennial questions, and I’ve yet to hear a novel answer or genuinely original response to the questions about the nature of education, learning, teaching, or, of the nature of teacher and learner, for that matter.
Aristotle’s observation can help us appreciate that the perennial questions of education must be addressed perennially.
But they need to be dealt with responsibly and critically, and not ideologically, if we are ever to figure out what it’s all about anyway: what should be the goal of education?
What methods and approaches are appropriate to that end?
What is the nature of the learner?
Of the teacher?
What should comprise the content of the curriculum (explicit, implicit, and null)?
What is worth knowing, and what is trivial?
How do students learn, and how do you know?
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He directs the Pastoral Excellence Program at Columbia seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.
His books on education include Academic Leadership: Practical Wisdom for Deans and Administrators, Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), and Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).