Humanistic Education – summary of Aloni 1999

School of athens. edited_01croppedlabelled

The historical roots of Humanism. The teacher’s aim is to ‘fix’ (read humanise) the student to be a good and proper citizen…? (I ❤ photoshop…forgive me Raphael)

This week (week 3) Nat & Amani are summarising the advanced reading:

Nimrod Aloni. (1999). Humanistic Education. In The Encyclopaedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory, M. Peters, P. Ghiraldelli, B. Žarnić, A. Gibbons (eds.).

It’s only five pages, so I recommend reading it if you have time. If not, here are some notes.

Aloni defines humanistic education as ‘ a variety of educational theories and practices that are committed to the world-view and ethical code of humanism; that is, positing the enhancement of human development, well-being , and dignity as the ultimate end [my note – does end mean aim?] of all human thought and action – beyond religious, ideological, or national ideals and values.’

He notes that ‘contemporary humanistic educators share a commitment to humanise their students in a spirit of intellectual freedom, moral autonomy, and pluralistic democracy. They strive to provide the kind of education that, on the one hand, liberates their students from the fetters of ignorance, caprice, prejudice, alienation, and false-consciousness, and on the other, empowers them to actualise their human potentialities and lead autonomous, full, and fulfilling human lives.’

For me, this bit sounds kind of arrogant. Humanising students sounds like something teachers do to students – it’s very teacher-centric.

True – but as an aside, he quoted Mortimer Adler and for that…I love him (Ha!). Soft spot for Adler. ‘How to Read A Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading’ is one of my favourite books –

Back on point – the framing…

Positions teacher as a provider (i.e., armed with the knowledge to transfer) of liberation and empowerment. Is that an oxymoron? i.e., would it be better to say, teacher as a facilitator of liberation and empowerment? Can it be framed in a way that indicates equality while respecting separate roles? Here’s my idea – frame teachers as ‘Professional Student (leaders)’…

I think there is a language (discourse) problem that reinforces certain ideas (i.e., imbalances etc). Question: Can this line of thinking be linked to Wittgenstein? i.e., focusing on language and meaning as the root of certain problems?

Aloni provides the history of humanistic education, tracing it back to ancient Greece and Rome. He then classifies humanistic education into five approaches:

  1. Classical–Cultural, which is all about idealistic human perfection and the study of masterpieces / great works. Its origins lie in Ancient Greece with scholars such as Pericles, Socrates, Protagoras, Plato, Aristotle and Isocrates. These ideas carried through to the Renaissance. 20th century scholars such as Kant, Mill, Newman, Arnold, Babbit, Hutchins, Maritain, Livingston, Adler and Kirk have developed this approach into one that is more ‘egalitarian, critical and liberal’.
  2. Romantic-Naturalistic, which springs from Rousseau in the 18th century with the notion that we each have an ‘inner nature’ which is ‘fundamentally good and unique’. Education consists of ‘drawing out’ this inner nature. More recent scholars such as Pestalozzi, Froebel, Dewey, Neill, Korczak, Rogers, Maslow, Combs and Noddings have added notions such as ‘care, growth, self-actualisation, personal fulfilment, self-regulation, [and] trust’.
  3. Existentialist, based on the works of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Jaspers, Sartre, Camus and Buber, who reject the ideas of classical-cultural and romantic-naturalistic approaches that humans are ‘rational beings’ with fixed ‘inner natures’. Instead we have the freedom to create our own identities. Buber, Greene and others say that curricula and teaching methods are not crucial in education, but rather the ability to support their students to create their own identities.The challenge – “it is neither the curriculum nor the teaching methods that are crucial in education but rather the ability of educators to educate by example, to be present [mindfulness] to their students in their full being as individuals engaged in authentic self-creation and self-affirmation” I second the motion!
  4. Radical-Critical, also known as Critical Pedagogy, comes from Freire, Apple, Giroux, Simon and Kozol, who believe that education must deal directly with ‘power, struggle, class, gender, resistance, [and] social justice’ to emancipate and empower students. Reminds me of motivations in anarchist pedagogies. Is it connected? Another relation that comes to mind is ‘edupunk’ …and the connection of punk sensibilities to anarchism. **brief search**… yes there is a connection but apparently some notable distinctions. See here for the info I found (Anarchist Pedagogies Collective Actions, Theories, and Critical Reflections on Education, Edited by Robert H Haworth)
  5. Ecocentric-participatory, is postmodern, post-colonialist, ‘ecocentric, non-essentialist, participatory, inclusive and multicultural’. It’s not just about humans but nature as a whole, including animal rights and sustainability. It’s inspired by scholars such as Habermas, Appiah and Hansen.

The piece concludes with a flourish that ‘humanistic educators [need to] set a personal example in the art of living…to create at their schools a pedagogical atmosphere of care, trust, support, dialogue, respect, fairness, tolerance, inquiry, freedom, commitment, responsibility, multiculturalism and reciprocity.’

Underneath this article in the Coursera site it says:

‘Many of the ways in which the article defines the function of the teacher seem unobjectionable: it suggests that the humanistic educator both ‘liberates their students from the fetters of ignorance, caprice, prejudice, alienation, and false-consciousness’ while also empowering them ‘actualize their human potentialities and lead autonomous, full, and fulfilling human lives’. How important to you – as an educator, a learner, someone with a stake in the idea of education – are these principles, derived from philosophical humanism? And in what ways might they be problematic?’

What are your thoughts? For me, these principles are all well and good, but seem very ambitious. It is asking too much of education to achieve all of these things? And what is the role of the students? They don’t appear to be given much agency, but perhaps that’s just the way this piece is written.

Indeed. Daunting for an educator. I think of the following combination: John Hattie’s findings (teachers are the biggest source of variation in education) plus teachers being authentic and present, and deciding what kind of educator they will be. I vote for a reframing of teachers(!?)

I did a rough exercise of visualising the article notes that Amani wrote up. I used an open source program called VUE (win, mac, linux) combined with image editing software. One exciting feature is the ability to create a complex map, and then create pathways through selected points to highlight an argument (narrative) for a presentation. I have attached a Map view, plus a slide view of what I quickly created. They are not completely filled with all the details. Test exercise.

humanist education-finitoMAP Humanist Education_Slides_finito

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