International Congress on Education
Castel Gandolfo, March 31 – April 2, 2006
FOR A PEDAGOGY OF UNITY
Unity: from the dawning of history, of culture and thought, men and women have constantly longed for unity. From the era of mythology, disorder and harmony, fragmentation and unity, chaos and cosmos have opposed one another. And cosmos means harmony, unity that becomes rule, law, the one that harmonizes the many. Certainly, the many is always part of human reality, in life, in conditions of diversity, separation, contrast, antithesis, even of war. But starting out from these existential, social and cultural setbacks, from these tragic divisions, unity is always before us as an everlasting, indelible calling, as the ideal goal, the regulating principle of individual and collective behavior.
What a desire for unity, on all levels, is present in Greek thought!
The unity of the human being, impoverished by the original division – brought about by Zeus – which cut him in two reducing him into parts (symbolon), introduced in man an eternal nostalgia for his original unity, a yearning to be in relationship with the other, with the missing part, in order to restore authentic harmony.
We are referring to the unity of man within himself and in relationship with the world, implored by Socrates: “Oh dear Pan, and you other gods who are in this place! Grant that I may become beautiful inside and that all the things outside of me may be in harmony with those that are inside.”
This is also the unity of Aristotle, of knowing-acting-doing (theory, practice and poiein), which can penetrate and harmonize with one another and thus give expression to truth (from knowing), goodness (from acting), beauty – and also, at times, usefulness – (by doing).
Returning to Plato, who gifts us with – again in Phaedo – a wonderful page on the relationship between unity and education. He highlights the limits of the mere “written” discourse which might be partial, superficial, fragmented, and contrasts it with a discourse that unifies, as those pronounced by authentic educators.
“Only in the words of the educator, that is, in what is really written on the soul, about justice, beauty and goodness, is there clarity, fullness and earnestness; the educator understands that these words must be his own, as if they were his children, and he knows that he carries the discourse – if he has found it – within himself.”
For Plato, then, the educator must “find” and “carry within him or herself” the “discourse,” that is, the theory, or inner wisdom. Only by this “coherent thinking” can the educator generate “words” (his own, as if they were his children”) that are able to “write on the soul,” that leave fruitful signs, that truly teach, in the sense of leaving a mark.
Therefore, a coherent theory is needed; “a pedagogy that is one” (if we may express ourselves in this way), in order to develop a coherent practice; an “education that is one.”
Plato’s intuition is very profound: only the unity of pedagogy (as inner coherence of pedagogical reflection, that is, the “discourse”) can bring about the unity of education (as an intimate coherence in the educator’s actions: “write on the soul”).
Consequently, reference to the theory-practice relationship is very strong in Plato, the close collaboration between “pedagogy” (as coherent theory) and “education” (as coherent practice).
In other words, education can be a way to authentic unification, provided the educator is its faithful interpreter, capable of founding it on a coherent theoretical system. (We will take up this subject a little later when we consider the danger of the “incoherent-fragmentation of theory” and of the “fragmentation of practice”).
Unity and distinction
The multiplicity-unity dynamic has been present, as we saw, from the beginning of philosophical language, also in pedagogical language. Philosophical and religious languages are two different but not contradictory ways of recounting the human condition. Both have, in various modes, indicated ways of civilizing that are rich with pedagogical suggestions.
The Bible, like other sacred texts, is the narration of divisions and relationships, of fragmentations and unifications. In it, however, the model of unity does not have an abstract and conceptual dimension (the “cosmos”), but God himself, the concrete Covenant with his people: God who, in the New Testament, manifests himself as One and Triune, as Communion of Love.
Disintegration and unity are represented within the Bible, recounting the history of relationships with God and among human beings, with very effective and evocative images.
An initial picture: Adam and Eve after the fall, with the serpent, a symbol of the initial diabolical separation: all they can do is hide themselves in the shame of solitude. “Where are you, Adam?” is the call, both religious and ethical, to bring them out of their hiding place, of separation, and allows them to walk through the world with their heads held high, putting themselves back in relationship: with God, with the other, with the others, with history.
Let us recall the Babel-picture: a variety of languages (of identities, of cultures…) but a real absence of relationship: the paradox of full communication, nonetheless void of understanding, participation, authentic encounter.
Finally, let us move to the next scene, to the Pentecost-picture: communication among all as understanding of the different, as global solidarity made up of living, fruitful words, words that become gift, reciprocity, dialogue, communion. They are words capable of welcoming the Spirit who makes them vital and creates something great, generates light, life, truth, membership into a Communion.
For the unity of pedagogy
This religious perspective – based, of course, on the relationship with the transcendent and on the consequent ethical and social demands (“Love your neighbor;” “Love one another as I have loved you”) – urges human beings to establish interpersonal and social relationships that tend towards unity.
In particular, the New Testament proposes Jesus as the only Teacher; he who is Way, Truth, Life, the unifying element of word and action, of theory and practice, of pedagogy and education.
It is worthwhile to pause on this point: in Jesus there is the unity of transcendency (Truth) and incarnated reality (Life), in an existential journey (Way) that perfectly integrates heaven and earth, logos and praxis.
Earlier we mentioned the need for the unity of pedagogy. The model of “Jesus the Teacher,” who unifies with him the “Way-Truth-Life,” enables us to elaborate a coherent, unitary pedagogical “discourse.”
In pedagogy, in fact, we should highlight three broad areas of research to be coherently harmonized with one another: pedagogical teleology (which answers the question: Towards where? – the end goal of education), pedagogical anthropology (which tells us who we are addressing: the subject of education), and pedagogical methodology (the “how” of education: with which strategies and tools…).
Nevertheless, today we frequently come up against a “fragmented pedagogy,” in the sense that its three-in-one essence is misunderstood.
- a.In some cases, in fact, pedagogy neglects the “anthropological” (life) dimension and exalts the “teleological” (truth) dimension: so then it appears as sterile moralism, paternalism, verbalism (proposing theoretical programs that are excellent but that are not connected with reality).
- b.Instead, other times, pedagogy focuses on the “anthropological” (life) dimension, giving scrupulous attention to the psycho-sociological reality, but neglecting values, the teleological, utopian (truth) horizon: this gives life to a dull, inconclusive and disoriented activism, with an emphasis on action without firm foundations.
- c.On other occasions, forgetting both the basic human condition (life) and the thrust towards goals (truth), pedagogy can be reduced to the exaltation of means, of techniques, of cold methodologies, thus reducing it to dull didactics.
In other words, any pedagogical plan must keep in mind the “multiplicity” of theoretical models on which it should be based (anthropology-teleology-methodology), seeing full value in each one and – at the same time – coherently harmonizing them in a wisdom-filled game of unity. Herein lies the unity of pedagogy.
We find this “unity of the pedagogical system” (unity of the “discourse”; unity of pedagogy) mentioned by many great educators, but certainly, also in the writings of Chiara. They contain constant reminders of the need to assume reality in its concreteness (for example, situations of hardship; difficulties in social-interpersonal relationships…), to orient towards the goal (unity of the human family) and to use the method, the most effective way to reach this goal (the art of loving). Also living the words of Scripture by translating them into life can be considered a valid educational tool for this continual search, expression of consistency, of the unity of theory and practice.
For the unity of education
The other aspect we must consider is that which I defined as “unity of education,” that is, “unity as the fruit of educational action,” “unity brought about by education.”
The “unity of education” is based on numerous elements, including:
1the educational relationship as an I-you reciprocal relationship that recognizes the greatest dignity of the “you” seen as a unique subject (various contributions from traditional pedagogy, but especially from philosophers like Buber, Mournier, Lévinas, Derrida and from the Brazilian pedagogue Paulo Freire, who proposed an education model capable of overcoming the oppressed-oppressor dichotomy and which promotes the humanizing dimension of dialogue). For Chiara, as we have intuited in these days, the icon of the educational relationship is the trinitarian relationship: it is Love which at the same time unites and distinguishes;
- 2the unity of the social body through the experience of education as democracy in action, capable of involving each one as protagonist in the construction of the “we.” For example, the contributions – all relevant in various ways to a perspective of social pedagogy – of Pestalozzi, St. John Bosco, Dewey, Freinet, Father Lorenzo Milani Freire… and so forth. Also, the experience of the Focolare Movement in what is defined as a “collective spirituality”: there are potential educational forces within this communitarian perspective (family, school, institutes, groups…) capable of avoiding fragmentation;
- 3education as awareness of “interdependent” relationships on all levels and as a dimension open to intercultural exchange (intercultural pedagogy), in the perspective of universality and peace;
- 4education as the pursuit of a unity of person-environment (ecological perspective);
- 5the idea of knowledge as an encounter among disciplines, a dialogue between different forms of learning (interdisciplinary – trans-disciplinary);
- 6education as an experience of collaboration and unity in and among the various ambits of human activity.
Sciences and education in dialogue
With regard to an interdisciplinary collaboration, a true expression of multiplicity-unity, we can say that:
- 1.each area of research and human experience needs the contribution of education and, therefore, of pedagogical reflection;
- 2.the various areas of research and experience offer contributions-knowledge-methodologies that are useful to pedagogy and education.
(An example of this reciprocity-interpenetration between different areas can be found in the collaboration between the inundation of pedagogy and the other inundations).