A Prolegomenon to a Philosophy of Jewish Education
If men are to lead a life of order, coherence, and meaning; if they are to live, in short, by principles; we, as educators and committed Jews, must fulfill two tasks. The first task is to discover the operative meaning or relevance of those principles in the circumstances of the present century. To do this is the necessary work of making the principles appropriate to the raw materials they must form, as well as to the ideas they represent. That is, they must be capable of molding the nascent character of our children here and now in the image of the ideals the principles represent. The task of so adjusting principles is analogous to the work of the wise judge in English common law; to adjust statutes written in one era so that they will apply effectively in another.
The second task flows from the first. It is the task of making real and actual what is so far only potential and possible; that is, the person who is, in values, habits, and skills, a living embodiment of the chosen principles. This task involves two stages. There is first the work of discovering those habits, skills, and values which spell out the ideal of the principle and then to use these enunciated qualities as the immediate, concrete, or proximate ends. The actual educational approach will then consist of the means necessary to attain the immediate or proximate ends. Thus we move, first, from an ideal to a possible; second, from the possible to a plan for making it real.
These are together the problems of education. Namely, to specify to a modern context a body of principles, to specify the proximate ends which embody these principles. To specify the means and methods which will lead to these proximate ends.
The profound philosophers and philosophies of education have proceeded thus. Having first developed their principles they proceeded to adumbrate the kind of societies, men, actions and habits which would exhibit these principles. These embodiments of the principles then served as guides to determine the educational approach whose purpose it was to bring to life their ideal of man and society.
Let us examine, briefly and sketchily, two such complete philosophies so separated in time as Plato and Dewey, where we can see in bold relief the creation of an educational theory that flows from the context of the philosopher.
For Plato the world we live in is composed of two ingredients: on the one hand, a component which is intelligible and good; on the other hand, a component which muddles and dilutes the intelligible good. Man is similarly divided consisting of a reason which could make contact with the intelligible good of the world, and a part which chains and muddles this ability to perceive the good. Concretely, Plato saw man a tripartite psyche or soul .The first of the parts of man was the Rational – that which man desires, loves, hates, etc. The second part was Appetitive – that with which man desires, wishes, wants. The third part was the Spirited – the source of energy which under the “normal” conditions abides by the rule of the Rational.
Up to this point we have, in Plato, the development of principles in an ideal form and the invention of a schema by which to state them, the function of a merely formal philosophy. Were those precepts to be used without undertaking what we call the first task of the educators, to indicate the relevance of the principles, Plato would have proceeded to recommend the state consisting entirely of disembodied intellects; men altogether shorn of appetite serving reason only. But, he is guilty of no such ellipsis. He faces the fact of human differences. He poses a state therefore in which a structure of classes takes account of varying human abilities. Each of these classes mirrors the rule of reason in a different way, each way appropriate to the ability of the individual in the class. Having thus changed his ideal to the possible, he proceeds to the second step, that of moving from the possible to a plan for making it real. The first phase of this second step is to spell out the competence required of each class. This he does, creating a ruling, an auxiliary, and an artisan class. The last phase of the second step is to turn to the store of culture, of science, and scholarship available to him and select therefrom the materials and methods appropriate to his proximate possible ends. Therefore, in Books II, III and VII of The Republic, Plato selects the appropriate education, first music and gymnastics, then arithmetic and geometry, as preparation for the dialectic – the method required to grasp truth and reason.
For John Dewey, on the other hand, the world we live in is a flux created by the effects of living things constantly attempting to modify themselves and their environment. Every effort at change instigated by a need, leads to changes and so on ad infinitum. The only way for a man to approach such a world is by rational efforts at perceiving problems and inventing solutions – the method of inquiry or, in more popular terms, the “scientific method.”
Dewey saw man therefore as primarily an inquiring animal; one who felt needs as do all living things, but also one sought to anticipate and identify his needs; one who sought to invent and develop an armory or variety of means for their solution.
Up to this point we have in Dewey the development of principles in merely an ideal form. Had he followed these without taking the step which moves the ideal to the possible Dewey would have commended a world in which all men equally participated in all inquiries. But again, the philosopher is guilty of no such ellipsis. He recognized the diverse needs and interests of different men, their diverse abilities, and the complex structure of modern society. He develops a scheme of social relations and communications, and a division of labor with respect to the kinds of problems and problem-solving knowledge. With this scheme, he is able to recognize different kinds and levels of problem-solving competences, any one of which could be the proximate or immediate goal of a school, depending on the abilities, needs and social situations of its clientele.
Thus, like Plato, he moves his “ideal” to the realm of possibility and proceeds to what we have named the second step. To make his plan for converting the possible to the real, he turns to what we know of human love, human association and human learning and adapts them to the classroom, the apprenticeship, the committee, the community, and other learning situations.
The second phase of step two, that of prescribing specific means or methodologies, is more difficult for Dewey than for Plato because Dewey's conception of a world in flux forbids his specifying the precise materials and methods used. Rather, he must take his second step by proxy; by describing the training and behavior of the teacher, leaving to such a teacher the task of final selection of materials and methods.
We see, in these two examples, the essential components of a defensible program of education; ultimate ends, proximate ends, and materials with methods. Each is developed in the light of the others; the proximate ends mirroring the ultimate and designed for feasibility, the means developed as means to the proximate ends.
But, when we approach Jewish education somehow we find the picture far less clear. It is almost as though Jewish education and Jewish educators have forgotten the problem of ends or goals. Or possibly they have assumed that the ends are given and therefore need not be reexamined. But, whatever the case may be, and whatever the cause, Jewish education has paid a very heavy price for its refusal to deal in depth with the problem of a philosophy of Jewish education. There have been many people who have documented the extent to which Jewish education is aimless. And when education is aimless then the practical, the means of education, educational methodology, becomes a matter of taste. One teaches a given way or organizes subject matter because it appears to succeed. But, it appears to succeed only because success is vague and ill-defined. In fact, we ask little or nothing about what we succeed at or whether the successes are appropriate to our ultimate aims. We act as if the means of Platonic education could be used to achieve the ends of Dewey and that the means of Dewey and education could be used to achieve the ends of Jewish education.
Any observer of the Jewish school notices how Jewish education points with pride to the use of “modern” methodologies of education. Some of these means and methods disclosed by modern science doubtless could and should be utilized in developing the educated or ideal Jew. The determining question will be, however: Do these means give promise of developing the ends implied within the Jewish tradition? In short, one must be critical in employing the means disclosed by “scientific” education or psychology for they are not neutral. They will serve only those ends whose principles are consistent with the principles of the science which created the means. For example, a medical therapy based on one conception of health and disease will, if successful at all, achieve the state of health from which the therapy was derived. If the health we wish to achieve is in any way fundamentally different we must remodel the therapy. Thus, in psychiatry Freud, Sullivan, and Fromm differ as to what constitutes health or cure. Therefore, they imply and employ different means of therapies.
Jewish education cannot escape this dilemma. It cannot import means of education from one scheme or system and ends from another and hope that they will work together except by lucky accident.
The problem for a philosophy of Jewish education is to disclose the principles that will lead to a coherent structure of ends and means. Principles which are Jewish, embodiments appropriate to life in the 20th century, means and methodologies which indeed will lead to those embodiments and not some unknown others.
Even this statement of our problem must come under the principles we are trying to state; this is an ideal. It will not, in any simple sense, be achieved. It is an ideal, and not a possible. The possible must take account of the vast riches which constitute the Jewish tradition, and the great inventiveness which characterizes Jewish scholarship. In brief, we will not achieve a single system of Jewish education to which we all subscribe. Instead, we must expect, nay welcome, a number of such schemes differing as different scholars give different weights to different sources of Jewish tradition and organize them according to their lights. But each scheme will be a valid theory for education and an authentic image of Judaism.
I would like to suggest an approach, a framework, with which one could view the Jewish tradition, with the hope of discovering the educational theories implicit in it. It has been formulated with the help of Professor Joseph Schwab, my teacher and colleague, Professor of Education at the University of Chicago.
A. Practical specification
Only rarely does a tradition specify its ideal of the educated man explicitly enough for educational purposes. Instead, it is implied in stated ideals and approved conditions of the state, the society, the family, the hero, the person and the relations of men to each other and God. Hence, the educational ideal must be spelled out from such sources in its own terms. One set of terms for such a specification follows.
To begin with the most general categories, it is usually necessary to state:
1. What bodies of knowledge the educated man is to possess, e.g., science, mathematics, history, ethics.
2. In what state this knowledge is possessed, i.e., on the one hand, whether as received, unquestionable doctrine, as the product of ongoing enquiry, as substance for continuing revision, or as passing sophistry. On the other hand, whether held by the individual man only at the verbal level as something capable of being repeated, or in more intimate ways, as for instance, knowledge known in terms of its validating arguments and evidence and as wisdom to be brought to bear on appropriate problems.
3. What skills - intellectual, interpersonal, artistic or technical.
To expand the above categories:
1. Knowledge: It is useful to divide knowledge into large sets, such as the following and to determine for a culture (a) what relative emphases it makes among them, and (b) what specific content it places in each:
1.1 Sciences: All organized theories and doctrines.
· Of nature: science in the modern sense, metaphysics, etc.
· Of human and divine past: history
· Of God: theology
· Of the good, the true, the beautiful: ethics, politics, aesthetics, epistemology
1.2 Mathematics and logic: Organized lore concerning how to think or concerning the ideational forms into which knowledge is to be cast.
1.3 Art: Knowledge of the elements, structure and variety of works of fine art.
1.4 Technics: Knowledge of the variety, structure and elements of the useful arts, whether as things to be used or as things to be made (including agriculture and husbandry, as well as the arts of inanimate objects).
1.5 Practice: grasp of rules and precepts governing behavior: the bases of personal, social, juridical and political decision and action.
2. The state of knowledge. This category is difficult to specify beyond the remarks made in the first paragraph above.
3.1 Intellectual Skills
Basic: Languages, number, calculation, measurement
Nature: Of enquiry
Discovery and invention of principles, evidence, data, inference and interpretation: leading from principles, evidence, data to theories, conclusions, laws.
Of application and emendation
Adaptation of knowledge to changing or growing problems and circumstances.
Specification of knowledge to particular cases, conditions and problems.
3.2 Interpersonal skills: the skills required to initiate and maintain human relations
Governance, leadership, admonishment, advising, teaching; being governed, obedience, servitude, learning.
Parenthood, love and friendship, support and assistance.
Maintenance of individuality and difference; coming to agreement and cooperation; group, team and mass action
3.3 Artistic and technical skills
Skills desired for all
Specialized skills – vocations avocations.
3.4 Manners: ritual of daily life
4. Values: as expressed in habits and attitudes
Work and leisure: whether work is treated as a necessity, a duty, a satisfaction
Whether undertaken for itself primarily or for the end of product
Whether leisure is growth and fulfillment or regeneration of energy or the occasion for license, etc.
Relations to God: Whether God is inscrutable manipulator, implacable meter of intelligible justice, placable power, giver to begger, Father and Protector, Friend, etc.
Self: conceptions of personal honor, duty, right, privilege.
Others: see Appendix I
Things and events: whether master or victim: i.e., whether attitude to the world is one of intelligent use, adaptation and structuring, or one of fear, and submission to the unknowable and uncontrollable.
B. Sources of evidence of a culture's conception of the educated man.
Cultures are too various and their histories, memorials and other records occur in too varied a form to permit a universal format for the search for evidence concerning the educated man. Hence, what follows is only suggestive and will and will be applicable only in part to the record of any one culture.
Further, it should be borne in mind that the idea of uniformity suggested by the phrase “a culture” is very likely to be a romantic simplification. A given culture is likely to be woven of several competing original views. Further, as time passes, there is development, change or addition of novel elements. Hence, one may need to report several views of the educated man or to select one among several as the major prevailing or increasingly dominant mode.
1. National or group aspiration on image of itself re: other nations or groups
Whether conquest or co – existence. If the former, its conception of the conquered: whether enslaved, uncultured, colonized, exploited. If the latter, how peaceful relations are maintained: by trade isolation, by cultural exchange, by cultural assimilation. Each of these intentions-enslavement, exploitation, cultural exchange, etc., implies certain qualities necessary in leaders and representatives of the culture and these constitute one contribution to the image of the educated man.
2. Group aspiration re: itself
2.1 Whether of economic austerity, simplicity, well-being or luxury.
2.2 Whether class-structured or homogeneous. If class-structured, what distinguishable leadership and “followership” rules.
2.3 Whether conceived as a political entity or a looser aggregate of clans, tribes, families or individuals.
On this choice will rest the culture's emphasis on social and cohesive virtues versus individual virtues and achievements.
2.4 What relative emphases on
Life of the group: love, friendship, parenthood, cronies, neighborliness. As this factor is emphasized, so also are the interpersonal virtues together with the skills and values necessary to maintain smoothness of relations: distributive and retributive justice, sharing of goods, cooperation, readiness for consensus.
Life of the individual: the celebration of maximum development of individuality; whether the bent is social, active, intellectual, spiritual, etc.
Life of activity: farming, husbandry, crafts, industry, trade.
Life of service: to each other or to strangers; glorification of the physician, the minister, the father, the friend.
Life of taste: the aesthetic; glorification of the production and appreciation of the fine arts. (Not to be confused with art which functions primarily to celebrate national achievement, e.g., monument, public buildings, epics.)
Life of mind: scholarship, learning, enquiry.
Life of the 'spirit': rites, contemplation, ecstasy, “other-worldliness”, preparation for death or an afterlife.
Life of the body: hedonics; food, drink, play, athletics, games, spectacles, sex, other forms of amusing or being amused.
3.1 Whether uniform or varied: If varied, what variety, e.g., warriors, athletes, judges, prophets, priests, martyrs, artists, scholars, the specific virtues which define a heroic judge, artist, warrior, etc. The degree of heroism attributed to each variety. There also may be a marked absence of heroes, their place being taken by the notion of commonly achieved ideals such as the good father, the good son, the good citizen, the good king. These yield evidence which overlaps category 2.
4. Ideals formulated as exhortations, warning, advice: the content of these orations, preaching, and so on which have been preserved and honored.
5. The form of government: Whether loose or rigid control. The distribution of rights, powers and responsibilities.
The source of power of governors: whether hereditary, elected, anointed, etc.
Each of the above possibilities implies its own list of civic virtues which would constitute one major responsibility of the educational means and institutions.
6. The family: Its ramifications (whether two or more generations, whether lineal or expansive), its role in the society, the duties and relations which hold among its members. Each of these again call for certain capacities, habits, attitudes, etc.
7. Circumstances and economics: Urban, rural, nomadic, austere, luxurious, free, persecuted, subjugated, enslaved, inimical or friendly climate, geographic isolation or conjunction with other cultures or nations.
8. The common life: category 2, except in fact instead of an ideal.
9. The extant literature and art.
9.1 Its genres and subject: - i.e. , whether primarily scientific, religious, ethical-political, etc. (see A1 and A2)
9.2 Its degree of sophistication and advancement
9.3 Specific items of content: e.g., pictures and narratives of individual lives, of group life, etc.,
When we answer such questions as these (and, of course, a more complete set of questions will emerge as we pursue the investigation) then I believe we will discover the image of the ideal or educated Jew. This would enable us to take the remaining steps which constitute the whole of a defensible theory of education. We will create appropriate new means and methodologies of Jewish education and possibly new educational institutions.
It is unnecessary to despair at what appears to be, at first blush, an overwhelming task. Educators have created new means and new educational institutions when they were faced with the problem of developing a given image of an educated man. For example, a new organization or subject matter; new mans of instruction that tap the continuity of the child, a new organization of objective elements in the educational situation. All of these were created in little less than two decades between the promulgation of Dewey's theory and the full flowering of the progressive school.
A democratic society that assumes it can develop creative, growing people must invent the means to achieve this end. And so, a means was developed that created a new profession – group work. As it is well known, this profession has found expression not only in informal group setting, but in education, religion, business and therapy.
I believe that investigation of the Jewish tradition with a view toward discovering the educational philosophy implicit in it might provide us with some startling discoveries. What does the notion of שימוש תלמידי חכמים mean? Obviously the point was not merely to observe the תלמיד חכם for the sake of knowing him and imitating his behavior.
The intellect and the character trait seemed to be inseparably bound up in this notion. What is implied is a synthesis of the intellectual and affective in man that if emulated would virtually transform the emulator.
Something like this is emerging from certain modern sources of psychiatric theory: a view which reorganizes the traditional structures of the 19th century and recent personality theories. It may be well that an adequate development of the Jewish traditions and nascent developments in current psychiatric theory would converge to develop a new bond between ethics and psychology to replace the current state of things in which psychology has all but assimilated morals.
The inner life of man is a central consideration in Judaism. How this inner life of man is conceived and what means are implied to make contact with this might offer some very important insights. The relation of כוונה to מעשה, of intent to action implies a notion of responsibility that appears to be very intriguing.
A prolegomenon frees the author from the responsibility of presenting a full blown statement. By the very approach to educational philosophy that has been presented no one individual could hope present the finished product. The task of developing an educational philosophy is an interdisciplinary endeavor requiring text scholars who are acquainted with the problems of philosophy and education, educators and philosophers rooted in text who are sensitive to and respect the materials of the tradition.
This task must be faced for the future of Jewish life, not only in this country but throughout the world, requires that we define very precisely what it is that we so want to preserve.