THE AIM OF CONTEMPORARY EDUCATION – Almoutran
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THE AIM OF CONTEMPORARY EDUCATION

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Word Magazine February 1966 Page 3-5

THE AIM OF CONTEMPORARY EDUCATION

By Rt. Rev. Athanasius Saliba,

Pawtucket, RI.

I.

EDUCATION OF THE WHOLE MAN

The main task of education is to help man actualize his own potentialities. Man was created in the image and likeness of God. He was appointed as the master of God’s creation. Man’s goal was set from the beginning. First he had to know God’s creation, and second he had to become the ideal man which he was created to be. As a historical activity, man’s education is an ascending process. It took thousands of years for man to become aware of the fact that he was created by a supreme being. It took even longer for him to accept the idea that he was created and put on earth for a purpose. The goal of man s existence was set by God and, according to the Jewish tradition; God was man’s teacher either directly or through the prophets. This divine educational school was in operation much longer than our system which goes back to the Greek era. God did not educate only the Jews. He communicated His will to all His children in different languages and in different methods. To some He spoke directly, to others He sent prophets. To some He communicated knowledge through schools, to others through personal inspiration.

The Greeks believed that the gods were the source of wisdom and knowledge. For Plato the Logos was the source of knowledge and the goal toward which the human intellect must aspire. For Aristotle, the Prime Mover was the lover which attracted the whole Cosmos in a process of continual and never ending process of intellectual perfection.

The incarnation of Christ brought to the Christians a deeper, and more comprehensive undertaking of man’s existence on earth, of his destiny after death, and of his relationship with his fellowmen. Christ has given His Disciples social and moral principles as well as spiritual ones.

Christians, from the beginning, emphasized the spiritual activities pertaining to the preparation for death and the hereafter life. They gave little attention to this life. This attitude led to the ascetic movement since the end of the second century. The ascetic movement swept the Christian world and exerted a tremendous influence on the church’s tradition, discipline and rituals. The position of the Church vis a vis world’s problems was not the same however, throughout the Christian world. It differed according to place and time.

Wherever the Church became powerful as a social institution, the hierarchy tended to become dictatorial and materialistic. These characteristics apply to the Roman Catholic Church in Europe during the middle ages. The clergy as well as the laity have failed to live the Christian life in all Churches, and in every Christian country. This failure cannot be interpreted, however, as the failure of Christianity to offer man a worthwhile principle which will insure his well being here on earth.

From the time of the Creation to the fifteenth century or the beginning of the Renaissance, man asked God to help him understand his environment to cope with his daily problems, and to achieve salvation after death. Man was still one whole being with a soul and body being guided by a supernatural power to grasp the true light and to become identified with it. He was still the image and likeness of God. His heart and mind still reflected the infinite and perfect attributes of his maker. For his heart was still open to the Divine Grace.

God was pleased with His creation. Christ was incarnate in order to make man’s life happier, more dignified, and more spiritual. The fact of the condescension of the Son of God in becoming man proves the importance of this world, and of man’s life on earth. Moreover, the Christian doctrine of salvation adds to the vital and decisive role that man’s Life on earth, and his use of God’s creation, play in deciding his lot for eternity.

The schools and curriculums were controlled by the Christian hierarchy until the end of the 16th century. For one thousand and six hundred years, the hierarchy has committed many sins against God and against His divine truth. One of the most serious sins was the pretension that the hierarchy knew the whole revealed truth, and no one can challenge its claim. It became natural for it to silence any opposition. That what happened in the case of Galileo, Copernicus, and other scientists who tried to upset the established order of knowledge which was guarded with zeal by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. The attitude of the Catholic hierarchy was not justified by the teaching of Christ.

II.

THE CLEAVAGE BETWEEN SCIENCE AND RELIGION HAS PREVENTED EDUCATION FROM FULFILLING ITS TASK

The reaction which took place, in Europe, against the Roman Catholic Church for persecuting scientists and for its rigid control of schools, led scientists to believe that progress, in technology is possible only outside and the Church, and outside the sphere of its influence.

Scientific knowledge has enabled man to understand and to control his environment. It gave him confidence instead of fear. It made him the king of creation that God wanted him to be from the beginning. In the process of controlling nature however, man has neglected his relationship with his fellow men. This relationship was emphasized by the Classical Education which stressed the importance of inner life. But the Classical Education had, in turn, little value in the analysis of the outside world.1

Coulson sees the Christian attitude toward science and technology as a mixture of suspicion, ignorance, and misunderstanding.2

In discussing the scientist’s moral responsibility, Coulson quotes Bertrand Russel as saying in his speech in 1959 that . . . “Some have said that the function of the scientist in society is to supply knowledge, and that he need not concern himself with the use to which this knowledge is put. I do not think this view is tenable, especially in our age. The scientist is also a citizen, and citizens who have any special skill have a public duty to see, as far as they can, that their skill is utilized in ac­cordance with the public interest.”3

Mr. Coulson believes that the same feeling is world wide. This feeling could be world wide, but it is not sufficient for a scientist to be only concerned about the use of a dangerous product he helped to develop. How did the concern of the atomic scientists, who put the atomic bomb together, help the people of Hiroshima? I agree with Coulson, that there are many scientists in Europe, America, and in other countries who refused to work for the production of atomic and hydrogen weapons, however, an overwhelming number did. The threats that we hear, from time to time by leading atomic powers attest to that.

In 1958 Dr. Linus Pauling pre­sented Mr. Hammarskjöld a petition signed by 9235 scientists urging the great powers to stop testing atomic weapons. These scientists were from 42 countries. This may prove that the sense of social responsibility is growing among scientists. But, in the meantime, the efforts of the great majority is being used for the protection of bigger and more dangerous atomic and hydrogen weapons.4

Today, the west looks at science and technology as necessary for national survival. The Communist world, on the other hand, considers science and technology not only as means for survival, but also as the salvation of mankind.

Coulson concludes his survey by saying: “If our industrial life is to be made more wholesome the Church must speak. But much of what it says will have to be said from inside and not from outside and most of us will have a lot to learn before we shall have very much to say.”5

This statement by Coulson reaffirms his belief in the attitude of the Church as mentioned elsewhere toward science and scientists.

I agree with him that suspicion, ignorance and misunderstanding exist on the part of some Christian leaders in the tanks of both clergy and laity. But to label the Christian Church as having this attitude is a mistake. For the Church is not only the total number of the living Christians who are subject to errors, but it is also the Divine revelation, Christ’s teaching, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit which are perfect in themselves. Man’s understanding of these divine truths could be true or false, superficial or genuine.

Brameld contends that the role of science is to control nature and to cooperate with it. He feels that we need education which will teach man to use his scientific knowledge about the atomic energy in this sense. Man must be convinced to use atomic energy for his benefit and his well being before it is too late. To put atomic energy under man’s control and to gear its production to peace­ful use, the atomic scientist must be­come more concerned with the relationship between atomic energy and the existence of man.6

Phenix, in assessing the advance of science and technology, admits that the increase of man’s knowledge about nature has helped him overcome his fear of the various natural phenomena. Science has enabled man to unlock many secrets which puzzled and terrified him before. As a result of these discoveries, man became able to tame the natural forces. His triumph over nature has given him confidence in himself. It has fos­tered in him the spirit of democracy instead of the spirit of submission to other beings or to some natural events.7

The increased knowledge about nature and its forces has brought man face to face with new problems and new dangers. By controlling his environment, man became subjugated to the same control which seems, at times, to belong to the environment created by man rather than to man himself. The successful scientific discoveries have exalted man’s collective intelligence. But, at the same time, the value of the individual shrank further. There is a very strong tendency to treat man like a computer which is out of order. In this case the simple scientific method is to locate the problem area, replace the damaged part or parts and the machine will function as predicted.

The essential difference between man and the computer, which is not seen by most scientists, is that which gives man knowledge and the ability to formulate decisions is not another man who can operate both man and computer, but an agent greater than man and his invention. This agent is the cause of man’s existence, and the ultimate source of his scientific and the technical knowledge.

The scientific knowledge which leads to the successful control of nature and the natural forces is acquired in school. Therefore, the aim of education can make the difference between a scientific education geared to the control of nature to help man live a peaceful, happy, and a good life; and an education which, in the process of new discoveries will subjugate man to the tyranny of his own inventions, and to the destructive powers unleashed by the scientists who are the product of a system which considers man as a part of the environment and a subject to change, reshaping, and even utter destruction.

The difference between a religious scientist and an atheist one is as great as the difference between peace and war, life and death, survival and annihilation in an atomic age. Atheistic scientists will not hesitate to produce and use atomic weapons in order to destroy the enemy of their country regardless of the number of people which might be destroyed in the process, while a generation of religious scientists will be able to secure peace. Furthermore, they will be able to create a healthy atmosphere which will enable them to destroy nuclear weapons and save the world from a sure destruction, when at the same time, working to build bridges of understanding, friendship and enduring peace.

Jacque Maritain said: “. . . An educational program which would only aim at forming specialists ever more perfect in ever more specialized fields, and unable to pass judgment on any matter that goes beyond their specialized competence, would lead indeed to a progressive animalization of the human mind and life.” 8

III.

THE AIM OF EDUCATION COULD BE REALIZED BY TEACHING RELIGION IN SCHOOLS AT ALL LEVELS

Most educators agree that modern education has failed to prepare man for a civilization where peace, equality, freedom and justice prevail. Few educators believe that the cause of this failure is the separation between Church and State and still fewer realize that the cause is the elimination of religious instruction from the class room.

Among the books I have read, I found some educators who advocate the teaching of religion in schools. Phenix affirms that the goal of American society has been, since its inception, the democratic faith. Public education has played an important role in maintaining and strengthening this faith. He claims, however that democracy has lost much of its vigor in America and elsewhere. He sees democracy in the world of today as a democracy of desire. “The good society is regarded as one of material affluence, where a wide range of desires are powerfully stimulated and abundantly satisfied.”9

The democracy of desire cannot survive because of its temporal purpose. The democracy which endures is the democracy of worth. Under such democracy the desires of the individual will be respected and satisfied, but the goal of education becomes what is excellent and transcendental. “. . . In a democracy of worth the program of education is conceived not solely or mainly as preparation for successful pursuit of an occupation, but as the gateway to a worthy life, in which work has its proper place within the larger vocation of being a civilized human being in a humane society.” 10

Phenix believes that religion should be taught not only as a separate subject, but it should

permeate every subject: mathematics, literature, dancing. bio-chemistry, law, medicine, etc … The fundamental religious principle could be used as a background of every subject to teach the student about the beauti­ful, the just, the good, and the per­manent in a world of fleeting and changing things.

Why is religious instruction excluded from public schools?! If the task of the school is to prepare the American children to become useful, productive, happy and enlightened citizens; and if in order to do so, the schools must teach what is current, important relevant and worthy; then the schools can keep religion out of the curriculum at the price of graduating generations of unhappy, confused, and half educated men. Phenix said: “If a wall of separation is erected between religion and the State (and its schools), that wall will prove to be a tomb in which Church, State, and Schools will decay with a civilization that has lost its soul.” 11

No one questions the inclusion, in the curriculum of elementary or a high school, mathematics or geography, or history, etc . . . such subjects are included on the basis that they are essential to increase student’s knowledge and to prepare him for a job after graduation. If mathematics is important, useful, and enlightening then how does one classify the history of the Christian Church or the subjects: the nature of God, revelation, the dialogue between God and man, creation, incarnation, redemption, immortality, etc . . .? All democratic principle in the West and especially in the United States is based on the Christian principles. The idea of freedom, equality, justice and happiness was preached thousands of years before the birth of Jean Jack Rousseau. Lock, Bacon, Jefferson, and the rest of the framers of the American Constitution.

The religious education is left to the various religious bodies in America. This method has failed. The main reason for its failure is that the students look at religious education as unimportant, and unnecessary. They acquire this feeling from the school they attend. For if religious education was really important it would be included in the school’s curriculum. Moreover, the student does not have time to study anything other than his school assignments.

Religious understanding requires continual, careful, and intelligent study of religious principles. Ninety percent of those qualified for such study, spend one third of their life in public schools and in universities without any religious education, or with very little of it acquired in the Sunday Schools of the various religious denominations. This system has led to a shocking rate of increase in the number of agnostics, materialists, atheists, etc . . .

Religious education does not force one to believe nor does it make a believer out of the student. Religious education helps the student to break off the chains of ignorance concerning religion. It helps him discover the truth about himself, his existence, his relationship with his fellow men, his destiny and his place in the universe. Furthermore, it helps him fulfill his duty as a citizen, as a human being, and above all as one of the children of God.

Jack Maritain said: ‘The education of tomorrow must bring to an end the cleavage between religious inspiration and secular activity in man.”12

Phenix takes a similar stand about the importance of religious education in a democracy. “Genuinely religious cultures may take many forms. Devotion to the supremely worthful can be expressed in ways without number. No single doctrinal formula can fully capture and contain infinitude. No system of ritual uniquely and exclusively qualifies as a vehicle for affirming devotion through symbolic acts. No one code of conduct contains the last word on the holy life. No religious institution can rightly claim exclusive and final (divine authority).”13

Theodore Brameld is against teaching the moral and spiritual values, in public schools, on a non­sectarian basis. He feels that we should respect the student’s intellectual ability by teaching them the dif­ferent religious views concerning these values. Thus leaving the choice up to the student himself. He advocates the study of religion in the same manner as other subjects. The views of the various religious denominations should be taught without any attempt to indoctrinate students in any particular dogma This method will instill in the mind of the student, an adequate and impartial knowledge of the various religious beliefs giving him the liberty, after careful deliberation, to accept one of them, or to reject them all.

I believe that religion should be taught in schools. In elementary school, religion should be taught on a non sectarian basis. In high school and in college, competent denominational theologians should teach religion in an objective manner. Thus the student will have the opportunity to know all he can about not only the physical environment, but also the moral, spiritual and supernatural one.

This is the only system of education that can fill the vacuum which exists in the minds and hearts of millions of educated people, and could hold the key to man’s survival. It might also offer a way out from the situation described by Phenix:

‘The minds and wills of all the people must be prepared by education to find some way, not yet apparent, out of the collective insanity into which our compounded knowledge, fear, and hostility have led us.” 14

The way has been found, but each person has to find it for himself. Christ said: “I am the way the truth and the life.”15

Science and Religion are not two mutually exclusive spheres of knowledge. Scientific knowledge is subject to verification by the scientist while religious faith is subject to verification by the pious and the saint. Faith is as real and true to the faithful as scientific knowledge is to the scientist. Science and religion are two different manifestations of the knowledge which is ever unfolding under the warm nurturing power of the grace of God. The emerging scientific knowledge and the progressing spiritual comprehension of God’s will are made possible by the essential unity of man’s intellect. This unity should be the aim of contemporary education.

NOTES

I Phenix, Philip H. p. 123. Education and the Common Man, New York, Har­per& Bros. 1961.

2 Coulson, C. A. Science, Technology and the Christian. p. 48, Abingdon Press, 1960.

3 Ibid. p. 37.

4 Ibid. p. 39.

5 Ibid. p. 63.

6 Brameld, Theodore — Education for the Emerging Age, p. 181, New York. Harper, 1961

7 Phenix, Philip H p. 1 22 — same book as above.

8 Maritain, Jacque, Education at the Crossroads, p. 19.

9 Phenix, Philip, p. 25, same book as above.

10 Ibid. p. 106.

11 Ibid. p. 249.

12 Maritain, Jacque, same book as above, p. 89.

13 Phenix, Philip H. As above, p. 241.

14 Ibid. p. 223.

15 (John 14:6).