In Pursuit of goodness,truth, and beauty

I know that sometimes a call from God is planted in our imagination, and if it persists we need to bring others into the discernment process to test if it is something to pursue or just a diversion.

Henri Nouwen  Discernment 100

Becoming an educator is something I always knew I would do. The form that would take has morphed and changed and seems to be ever changing as I take on the role of teacher each year. I’d love to be able to say that my place in education becomes more and more clear each year – that I feel like I’m standing on solid ground, but perhaps that’s not what actually happens to educators – instead, my world is constantly rocking – not always in a bad way, not always in a good way. Just rocking so that I can never fully find my feet, or if I do, I cannot control their movement, just stabilize my center of gravity so that I do not fall over.

Of course, the main fact about education is that there is no such thing. It does not exist, as theology or soldiering exist. Theology is a word like geology, soldiering is a word like soldering; these sciences may be healthy or no as hobbies; but they deal with stones and kettles, with definite things. But education is a word like “transmission” or “inheritance”; it is not an object, but a method. It must mean the conveying of certain facts, views, or qualities to the last baby born. They might be the most trivial facts, or the most preposterous views, or the most offensive qualities; but if they are handed on from one generation to another they are education….. Education is tradition, and tradition (as its name implies) can be treason.

G.K. Chesterton – Whats Wrong with the World

I’ve always had this idea that education could be better than it is – that the system of education could adapt to the needs of the students and subsequently the world around them. This kind of thinking, though, identifies education as a thing to be changed, a thing to be done. Chesterton’s quote reminds us that education is a method – a way – and that whether we choose old methods or new, the need to recognize treasonous traditions and separate them from virtuous, is necessary. I recognize that statement, in and of itself, is one that some people may automatically recoil from – that the argument of who decides what is treason and what is virtue comes immediately to the forefront – and that ideas of dictators and cult like thinking begin to dance through our debates. So I extend this question to you, dear reader: Are there not definitive, cross- cultural standards for morality? Do we not have clear and inarguable ideals about what is good and what is bad? And, if we do not have common, clear understandings of good and bad – how can humanity ever thrive? We would not have a common understanding of what it would mean to flourish….

Recently, a friend sent me an article from the New York Time’s: “Why Our Children Don’t Think There are Moral Facts”  She prefaced it with the question: ‘Do you think your high school students could understand the difference between opinion and fact?’ I find that the more and more I think about this, I’m not sure that they could – I’m honestly not sure that I can always tell the difference between what we might call opinion and what we might call fact. Scientific method can only go so far to prove truths in the world – if something is not testable, does it make it automatically opinion? No, I don’t think so – but I say think here, because it is my opinion that there are truths which cannot be proven by any method we’ve come to agree upon as a human community. I have basic truths that I believe and it is my understanding of the world, that these are widely believed:

  1. hurting or killing another human is bad
  2. love and kindness is good

Good and bad – we can agree on these: Treason and Virtue. Dishonoring humanity is treason, honoring it is virtue. So then I extend this question – how can we, as educators in whatever capacity we may be – make sure that this is the tradition that is passed on to students. That the knowledge they gain from their education provides a clear path for kindness and love to outweigh a desire to do harm?

My teacher boat is still rocking and my feet aren’t quite stable, but I think I’m getting closer to recognizing an end goal -whether obtainable or not is the question. We shall have to see…

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