A Justice Site
CSUDH - Habermas - UWP - Archives
California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: June 2, 2005
Latest Update: June 2, 2005
For a long time people have complained about our schools, about our educational progress. They've all got good ideas; the best would be to see that the teachers have a good and solid education before them, but then we'd have to admit how really screwed up the schools have been for how long. We'd prefer to blame that on those who came after us, and to claim that we are not complicit in the mess. But we are complicit. Humans are curious. They want to learn. The first rule of good teaching is to let them learn. Do no harm. Expect them to learn. And expect them to be curious and to learn about many things, even some we might not choose at the moment. That's mythos, not logos. Mythos that says that if we love our students, in the sense of listening in good faith to understand them, we will be able to hear or see what they need to grow as they choose to grow. It is not ours to choose evolution over creation, or creation over evolution. It is ours to answer their need to discover where each fits in their lives and in the lives of those with whom they share the globe.
Evolution and creation are just the issue of the moment. Good educational responses to this issue lie along the whole range of political and philosophical positions. Evolution as science must be taught, and understood. How else will our children learn how to solve complex problems from what does not readily appear to the senses? But our children also need to learn the mythos of our culture, the virgin and the whore, the gods of thunder and revenge, the gods of Nirvana, and how all these beliefs are filtered through and filter the logos of the scientific approach. To insist that children be taught Creation as an alternative to Evolution is to totally not get it. They represent completely different pieces of our knowledge. I know that Lacan didn't mean anything quite that simple when he claimed that there can be no metanarrative, no truth that holds for all. But I think we could legitimately understand his theory that way. In the simplest sense we could translate what he says to "you don't have to choose between evolution and creation." They are each true. You don't have to place one truth above the other; they are equally valid. They are both true, and they both affect our lives, in different ways, sometimes at different times, but neither goes away while the other rules. Part of the difficulty of modernism and enlightenment is that logos (science) seemed to displace mythos (spirituality). But we learned that didn't work. Perhaps mythos and logos work together like yin and yang. But however they work together, they both have had life-wrenching roles in shaping the social world of today.
Evolution is about the bits and pieces of evidence we have gathered over the centuries that provide evidence that other creatures, other humans have lived and disappeared over the ages, so that such bits of bone and DNA are all we have to give us a real sense for what they must have been like. Evolution heightens our imaginary, gives us the stimuli with which to picture what was long ago.
Creation, particularly the Christian creation myth, for us, though every religion and culture have creation myths, is about the mythos. About our imaginary as it came to us from those who tried to answer the fundamental questions of who we are, where we came from, where we are going, not with bits of evidence, but with spirituality. The creation story runs all through our traditions, our religions, our systems of social justice, our ethical justifications for who gets to take our world resources, and keep them, and use them as they wish.
Evolution and creation are not little chunks of knowledge we drop in the curriculum wherever it suits us. They are a part of us, and we are a part of them. They are part of history, of literature, of language, of science, of government, of social structure, of technology, and, perhaps most of all, today, of late corporate capitalism.
The world, the universe, are too big for us to take in all at once. They are surely too much for us to teach all at once. So we divide them into history, English, foreign languages, art, music, math, physics, etc. But those are just convenient little chunks that we bite off as manageable. And soon, in the fast moving world of today, they are no longer such little chunks, so we split physics into particle physics and astro physics. But soon we discover that our scientists can't answer the new questions they encounter without knowledge of both particle and astro physics.
And we find that even when we divide the spiritual approach up into Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Protestant, Sikh, New Age, and on and on and on, that doesn't work either. We keep creating new categories that deal with new questions and with the issues of whether there can be one truth that humans can know. The gift of postmodernism was to remind us that the knowledge we face is so immense that we don't need to choose one over the other, each is a part what we are given to understand that may someday fit into a whole we cannot yet know. And until we can know, we can't determine who has a "right" or "wrong" piece of the puzzle by logos, which is the only way we have to measure the accuracy with which any of our ideas fits the world as it is. "The "right" and "wrong" of mythos is morality, ethics, forgiveness, retribution, where we have none of the measured answers of logos, only our beliefs, to which we always have a great claim as they are ours, and we "know" them, as we know ourselves. What remains uncertain is the extent to which those beliefs, which are ours, which dignify and embody our anserabilty, will apply to others in the universe and the heavens and hells we cannot yet know.
In education that means that we must break free of disciplinary areas that bind us artificiallyand instead must learn to seek the relationships and interconnections that give us an occasional glimpse of the wonder that we imagine the universe to be. We can't read all that Miko wants us to see. But we can grasp what Miko (or jeanne, if Miko insists) tells us about it, and see paths where some things might lead. We can remain aware. We can learn to recognize the most essential of all: what we don't know. Then we'll have sense enough to remain open and aware, and not close our minds off as new knowledge pours in.
No time to go on. But this is enough to get you to think along the lines I'm trying to point out. I put this essay up today because the daughter of one of our Dear Habermas members won first place for her essay on preserving battlefields from the Civil War. Now what does the Civil War have to do with any of the issues we address? Actually, a lot. Elise draws a link between preserving the battlefields and keeping the memories alive. Notice that the physical presence of the battlefield is large, usually green, attracts tourists, provides a scenic area, all part of our visual landscape. Losing the battlefields would mean losing those huge visual chunks of our history. And the respect for our history provides a link to today. The Civil War was about slavery; but it was also about the land-rich South that needed labor to work that land pitted against the more industrialized North. War wasn't so much purer are clearer in that political mix of production and freedom than it is today in the mix of oilfields and the building of infrastructure over the third world and freedom. In all that, Elise is right. We need to recall that some are called upon to sacrifice their lives that we may go on with ours, as mixed up and unclear as they are, hopefully in the direction of freedom, but with no guarantees. We owe our respect to those throughout history who have made that sacrifice, and we need our battlefields to remind us that under the politics are the humans who paid for our progress, if progress it is. The answer to whether it is progress or not depends on our respect for each other and our commitment to insist that ours be a road to freedom.
These are my thoughts. They were provoked by the joy of sharing Elise's essay and of hooking that up in my consciousness to the issues we discuss. The true measure of learning is being able to share that learning with others, to test our ideas against those of others, to find ways to relate our own learning to that of our children, as in this instance to Elise's prize-winning essay. It is the love of the learning community that will rescue our schools, not tests, not punishment, not the displeasures our children see, and wonder if they're to blame, but love, for our kids, for learning. love and peace, jeanne