Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bring a sense of spirit to the Humanities part 3

Where do we find constructive help in this difficult journey into ourselves?  We can turn to the great artists, writers, thinkers, statesmen and scientists throughout history who have communicated their heightened sense of awareness through their lives’ work.  They have tried to awaken us to a higher view of ourselves through artistic forms and significant deeds.  Their examples can make clear to us that we have more than just five senses.  We can go beyond our material senses to deeper levels of cognition.  We all have dormant organs of finer perception which have always been cultivated by leading Human Beings throughout history. If we can understand and absorb their insights, we can ourselves participate more completely in the great creative force that drives humankind forward and upward.

So often what we search for is to be found right in front of our noses.  It is the same with life itself.  It’s like a game of hide-and-seek that we play with the self we know and the self we are trying to find.  And the method that we can use is also right before us in our own great culture and tradition.  It is only a matter of learning how to "see better" as the loyal Earl of Kent implores Shakespeare’s King Lear.

The self-developmental thrust of this type of Liberal Arts education goes beyond the conventional approach to the Humanities found in colleges and universities today.  For example, undergraduates study the doctrines and ideas of Plato.  In contrast, this approach redirects the focus of study to the process of self-knowledge using Plato’s symposium as a catalyst.  Self-knowledge is the goal.  Plato is the guide.
To those who do not understand the spiritual dimensions of "Know Thyself!" self-knowledge appears to be narcissism.  To those who have had this inner-experience, it is a path to community service.  It is the goal of true education to cultivate that which is the best within each of us.  Thiscreates the conditions for a superior understanding of perennial wisdom, so called because it constantly blooms.
The new curriculum at many universities includes selections from non-Western, female and minority sources.  The changes reflect the recognition that the traditional approach to the Humanities has great limitations.  However, in spite of good intentions, the quest for universal relevance in education will continue to go astray so long as Humanities advocates do not realize that higher education must be founded on the conscious development of these dormant cognitive organs leading to a deeper understanding of the human condition.  The development of the whole Human Being – no matter what the sex, color or race – must be fostered.

No unifying theme has been consciously applied to our secularized education, and the Liberal Arts curriculum has become over-specialized and over-intellectualized at the expense of an education of the heart and the will.  Of course, revision of the traditional core curriculum of the Humanities is not a recent phenomenon.  At the very onset of our modern curriculum development, Amos Comenius (1592-1670), the great Moravian educator responsible for many aspects of modern education, saw the potential pitfalls that have come to be.  For those who are unfamiliar with Comenius, his book, The Visible World, was the first textbook in which pictures were as important as the text.  He was determined to translate into reason what previously had existed as tradition.  In The Temple of Pansophia, he wrote that he wished to construct a temple of Wisdom that would serve as a sacred edifice for education similar to the Temple of Solomon.  His temple was to house a school of universal wisdom, a workshop for attaining all of the skills necessary for life and the future.


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