There are many approaches to the issue of education. In general, we can divide them into two groups: ethical (the problem of values) and cognitive (the problem of mind and understanding). However, it does not mean that those who examine and write some works about ethical problems in education do not pay attention to the question of the possible improvement of human mind‘s possibilities. The distinction is needed just in order to mark the most important facets which we should take into account when talking about education.
Let us discuss the ethical issues first. Allan Bloom in his work “The Closing of the American Mind” stresses the importance of values in educational systems. He criticizes the American educational system for its bad influence on young minds. For Bloom, the direction which most teachers and professors have chosen in order to raise a new generation is questionable and possibly harmful. He takes into account the way everything is turned to self-dependence and egoistic approaches. The Locke’s inheritance, which the educational system took as a basis, is in all ways spoiling young people’s souls. It means that the approach that society is based on –self-interest alone – is not teaching anything good. Pupils are taught how to be selfish, but is it really the best way they can make the next generations better than those we have now?
Bloom argues that not only school and university has the educational function. He turns his sight to culture, especially to pop culture which is known to everyone who lives in certain society. He claims that our nowadays culture can show only bad examples of behavior. Pop-idols show that you do not need to be educated in order to gain success, they paint the damaged picture of success. Pupils and students start to strive to this kind of success, and most often, they end up feeling miserable and weak.
Moreover, they start to assess other people just by comparing them to the most successful ones. They do not think that the truth or the good matters nowadays. For Bloom as a classic philosopher, who is occupied with Plato and Aristotle, these are the worst things. He argues that only such values as love and goodness can bring our society to the new better level. Only those societies who are built on the basis of virtues can win in the long run. Paying attention to others while preparing an action is what should be included in human’s behavior. In general, we should be more humane. This is what our universities and societies have forgotten, according to Allan Bloom.
A more radical view was presented by Alexander Neil. He believes that naturally all children are good. It means that we do not need to force them to be someone they aren’t. Moreover, society should just leave them alone. Children should be enabled to decide for themselves, without any external influence.
He claims that any type of education is a repression. Real interest can be grown only without any pushing. When human being is left alone and does not have anyone to tell them what to do, they are more likely to understand and develop their character. However, educators who argue this approach, claim that there is no such possibility for anyone to develop their own characters without any influence. Remember Bloom and culture.
Despite the fact that values and freedom in education are important, we can still feel something missing in the views which were discussed before. They take pupils as smart and kind people by default. Is it really so? Should we not teach them before and then give them freedom to decide what they want to do? How can we teach them and not influence them? This is the question that can be answered by progressive education approach.
Margaret Mead is one of the most influential activists from this progressive flow. The main idea of her system, which was then integrated in many other systems, is that we should not teach students what to think but show them how to think. It is an idea of importance of critical thinking.
It means that we teach pupils how to analyze something, how to reflect on certain questions and how to draw conclusions. We do not put prepared ideas in their heads but help them to create those ideas on their own. Moreover, in order not to let the educational system become old and useless, everyone should strive to knowledge during all life time. It means that even teachers and professors should learn something new and keep abreast of everything that is going on in the world. Then the society will be full of productive members who are hard to manipulate because of their critical approach to everything.
There is one gap in her system. She does not talk about values which were so important for Bloom. Will the skill of critical thinking give people understanding of values? Will it not harm their ability to know something for certain or to believe in something? If we remain critical to everything without any fundamental point we get to be relativists. This relativism can sometimes be even harmful, depending on the type of person’s character.We are creators in our human nature. We should create something and not only analyze.
That is the point to pay attention to the Waldorf schools. These are the schools which implement Steiner’s educational system. Steiner is a philosopher rather interested in problems of education. He invented the method which can combine all approaches discussed before.
The educational system has three stages. Every stage provides a pupil with the new type of education. The first one is directed to practical activities. Small children learn how to communicate with the nature and the world. They create something with their hands, learn to perceive and feel the materials.
The second stage is dedicated to an artistic development. The creative skill goes to the new level. Here pupils learn how to express emotions, how to communicate with others and how to improve their imagination skill.
The last one, which finishes the formation of a character, is the stage related to critical thinking and empathic understanding. Pupils learn not only to analyze and argue but also to pay attention to other subjects of communication. As a result, each pupil has tried themselves in different activities and later can decide what they want. Moreover, this system combines two main principles: ethical and cognitive. After such an early education a person is more likely to be fully integrated in society without being influenced.
We can combine different approaches to education in order to find the golden mean. The Waldorf schools are the best ones to start with. In them each pupil will be able to decide what to do and study next. Next step could be the liberal school from Neil or the one where the values will be at the top of importance. The good news is that these values will now be alternative possibilities and not the factors of pressure.