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A Humanist Education as one of the Preconditions for the Transformation of Civilization

By K. N. Kondratyev, medical-psychotherapist, a member of the International Coalition "For Humanism!"

  1. People are not born as humanists: how can one instill humane qualities in a human?
  2. Education and authentication: the impossible is possible (a program of authentication for those with inadequate education).
  3. Sources of optimism: people by nature strive for harmony.

1. At the present moment, it is logical to pronounce the end both of the former Soviet system of education as well as the absence of any other new alternative system of education. While the remnants of the old Soviet system of education have been left to die slowly, one can observe attempts to create educational institutions based on the bourgeois model (lycées, gymniasia, etc.). In these institutions our children learn and are taught “something or other and this or that” (A.S. Pushkin, “Eugene Onegin”). And although, as several sociologists emphasize, “some of them, compared to us, already know what they want!”, – I for one hold deep doubts about this. And here’s why:

According to the ideas of humanism, an individual does not fully develop into a person by their self, nor through the process of acquiring a certain amount or system of special professional knowledge. Instead, he or she masters and absorbs their surrounding culture. But what happens if this culture is actually a widespread anti-culture? Or if it is simply declining, waning, in crisis… sub-human? What if it is a culture – in the best case scenario – whose active creators and members (consumers) “know not what they have wrought”, and in the worst case scenario are conscious enemies of cultural humanity?

The danger that many children today may actually become “superfluous”, as has been expressed in criticism, i.e., that today’s children may become sub-human and outcasts, has in fact long been a reality.

Stepping back somewhat from my main theme, I would like to emphasize that in the conditions of a heightening catastrophic crisis, the instability of the system of a declining Civilization will drastically increase. In these situations, the effectiveness of various types of spiritual influence on the course of the process will also increase. In that case it becomes extremely necessary for us to strengthen our humanist tendencies. The most important task would thus be to identify allies and unite our efforts. Then, the probability of a Humanist Transformation will grow despite the looming catastrophe. However, without our spiritual successors – the humanist youth – the trajectory of that very Humanist Transformation may not be able to be properly aligned: The Transformation might take an entirely different path...

How can we guarantee a favorable outlook? How can we raise our young to be future humanists? How can we implant and strengthen the humanist attitude in a human being, in a single tiny person?..

  • "There are several approaches to the general topic of education:
  • the acknowledgment of original sin of man and the need for strict external measures (the so-called authoritarian approach);
  • the acknowledgment of the fundamental goodness and abilities of man and the denial of the necessity of external measures (this is called the humanist approach);
  • the acknowledgment of the "blank slate" theory, of the fundamental neutrality of man and of the deterministic role of external measures (this is called the intermediate, behavioral approach)".
    (I am citing all of this from an article by Master of Psychology Igor Vachkov, "The Two-Faced Janus of Humanist Education", and, as you probably already realized, my goal is one of criticism; fortunately, Mr. Vachkov himself is also very critical, naturally in his own way).

Personally, I would not call the first approach authoritarian, but rather penitentiary-totalitarian (from Latin poenitentiarius, meaning confessional or correctional). Why? Well because in certain cases authoritarianism may not be all that bad: an approach to education based on a single personality, or authority, in a good sense of the word, by itself does not cause anything fatally negative: in any serious matter, there must be a principal figure, and more so in education: after all it is rightly said that “too many cooks spoil the broth”. This approach is bad for other reasons: because there may exist a certain fundamental, accusatory bias, suspicion and distrust regarding pupils. This nips any humanity in relations between educators and students in the bud, and exerts a formal and harsh influence on them. As a result, at the end of the process they (“educators”) are forced to hand over young people “from one hand to the other” to the totalitarian state-successor. Many of those present here, especially those from the countries of the CIS, know not from theory, but from life experience how fraught this approach is.

I would not call the second approach humanist, but liberal. At our conferences much time was devoted to criticism of liberalism as a fundamental ideological competitor and imitator of humanism. Here I will repeat only one criticism: it is clear to any person of any level of education that a human being is not born human, not to mention humanist. Furthermore, a human being has the chance to become humanist or not to become humanist, depending on the characteristics of the people and culture surrounding him or her. That is, namely, a human being’s potential to develop must be realized at the level of mastering a humane culture. Moreover, a human being is not completely perfect by nature: he or she needs to be “cultivated” at the level described above – in education, this implies the further development of positive aspects and the suppression, curtailing, or constructive transformation of various innately negative qualities, which should lead to correlation and harmonization in the framework of a concrete human personality. All of this, naturally, should be accomplished based on the natural rudiments possessed by all children. Such a complex process should be, as a minimum, determined by:

  1. an appropriate understanding of the unique disposition of individual children;
  2. adequate educational planning, taking into account the given concrete-historical conditions;
  3. the potential to implement and improve this plan based on changing circumstances.

In other words, the alternative liberal approach implies the existence of a “tiller” figure, or even better, an institute of “tiller” educators: people who fundamentally love the children they work with and who are emotionally and morally interested (in addition to the parents) in the development of the children. Proponents of these models of humane dispositions frighten liberals. They tend to believe that their bourgeois “cabbage” is adequate for the human formation: mass pseudo-culture for the majority while a few snobs stay in elite pensions. The future arbiters of world fates and the fanciful ideals of liberal democracy will complete the process of the universal and final humanization of the population of the planet.

And finally, the third approach obviously leads to the excessive technocratization of minds: conspicuous robotization of the population, hastily brought about by the stormy successes of information technology, this approach is based on the cyber-like characteristics of the bio-psychological structure of human, ignoring our genuinely human aspects: spirituality, and the ability to make conscious and responsible personal decisions!..

It is clear that, lightly speaking, none of the approaches I have discussed are appealing to us humanists: they all deal with man and his potential in a fragmentary, tendentious, and one-sided manner. And indeed, our contemporary systems of human upbringing, which these days have essentially been replaced by multi-purpose, long-term PR-campaigns, are based on these very ideas! Most of them selfishly and unscrupulously take advantage of relevant scientific discoveries and innovations as peculiarities of a kind of Homo sapiens, and as a result, they secretly manipulate people, or openly de-humanize them.

As a start, we have to create our own education system based on the true principles of humanism, although this would be for a transitional period. In my imagination, a humanist education is system of human formation that must take everything into account: including certain human limitations (imperfections), and the various individual dispositions and rudiments of children, and the fundamental human aspiration for harmony and creative interaction with the world, and man’s idiosyncratic destructiveness towards other races…and all of this should be considered within a dynamic of growth, and should be continually corrected and improved in real concrete space and time. The general aim of such a system should be to maximize to the fullest the potential and harmonious development and perfection of every concrete human, whose condition is limited in accordance with every moment of time, at every stage of life, towards him- or herself, towards nature, society, and the world.

The organization of such a system is only possible through the harmonious collective of united efforts, insofar as the act of education, maybe more than any other, cannot afford to tolerate divergence and misunderstanding amongst the educators themselves. Inside of such a collective it is possible and probably even necessary for educators to specialize according to the particularities of their personalities, age und experience, thus making their efforts more helpful and making a timely vocation possible during the corresponding stage of development of a child or the growth of a young person.

And then for the normal course of the process, one can render possible and even necessary several dedicated substitution of the very educators, namely in those aspects where the standard parental influence certainly cannot be valuable or fully sufficient for reasons of limitation. After all it is perfectly natural that parents cannot be the bearers of universal human qualities and experience that apply to everyone, and children, in their turn, are not pure genetic copies of either parent.

For example, if for some reason there is no full-fledged bodily and emotional contact between a concrete child and its mother (we admit that the mother is not very motherly from nature, or just too asthenic or ailing), then the risk increases that a self-aggressive, contact-disliking (squeamish), and an emotionally-cold personality can take shape, or opposite extremes can form: throughout his or her entire life, a person may unwillingly devote excessive attention to issues of bodily and emotional pleasure, contact, erotica, and sex.

Everything that has been laid out or plainly described thus far will most likely have the following negative effects: a neurotic, incoherent person will, when the occasion arises, devise the corresponding personality type that is convenient for him or her personally, or for the social system or existing policy, etc., that will by no means contribute to the harmonization of relations in society, unless, on the contrary, having realized the truth of what happened, he or she will turn up in our ranks (that is more preferably, and is possible if we manage to remain sufficiently active!).

Indeed, now it is even already clear to psychologists that in these and in many other situations, the results are almost fatal: gross violations of character, personality, behavior, that lead to drug addictions, sexual perversion and excess, social negativism, apathy or, on the other hand, aggression…need I go on? The point is not that it is incomprehensible where all this comes from. The point that needs to be emphasized is that nothing is currently being done in order to break the vicious circle of arbitrary births and the subsequent crippling of children by anti-culture.

And we, humanists, should and will formulate and create our own structures and systems according to our capability, in all spheres of human culture, I repeat – in all spheres! But I return now to education and this situation of insufficiently “motherly” mom. In my hypothetical humanist educational system there are certain elaborators of plans that will correct the growth and development of children, they will work from the very beginning with this or that collective of educators and understand the individuality of each concrete child and his or her family situation. They would avoid such a negative course of events. They would take and find for the children an emotionally warm and talented person, which in the past would have been called a “wet-nurse”, who will interact with the child in order to guarantee a positive experience through relevant activities depending on the child’s age.

Moreover, this will be done at all age levels! Therefore in the organizational structure of the suggested institute of education an important figure (in my view) emerges: the headmaster, chaperone, planner, and overseer, an earthly guardian angel (or however you want to call it). His or her sphere of responsibility includes keeping track of and helping to correct the long-term growth and development of concrete individuals, at least during the transitional period until the advent of the Humanist civilization. The main function of this figure is to contribute to the harmonization of the education process as a whole.

People might retort to me: “Surely this doesn’t matter at all to people who are already adults!” Then I would take the courage to emphasize that this does matter to the majority of people alive today, with the sole exception of the more mentally gifted, who are in close and constant contact with Spiritual Reality, and who at any moment of their own development will be able to find answers to many existential-strategic and operational questions and will be able to take on the role of the headmasters described earlier. Nevertheless I am convinced that most people need similar assistance via the method of spiritually evolved tribesmen: there were always fathers and mothers, whether genetic (parents), psychological (previously mentioned “aunts” as well as “uncles” and so on), and spiritual…

This constitutes my opinion as far as the organizational structure of the future humanist educational institutions are concerned.

Territorially, the humanist education does not necessarily directly imply complete isolation from the dying civilization, though a certain degree of detachment and independence are definitely needed, depending on the age and the level of experience of the pupil, as well as his or her level of aggression towards the world situation, which could manifest itself at any concrete moment.
However, the hierarchy of values will completely determine the qualitative side of the question as well as the symbolic and actual manifestation of this as yet hypothetical humanist structure in real life. And in this sense of humanist, we are referring only to the humanist, i.e. a human, who considers the highest attainable values to be the formation of harmoniously and thoroughly developed people, children, and youths, who are the potential successors of the ideas of humanism and are simultaneously the future result of their actual creative manifestation. The aspiration to achieve these ultimate values in the interactions between educators and pupils should be constant, unconditional, sincere, and all-encompassing.

Another principle should be the priority of the animate over the inanimate, regardless of whatever value is attached to the latter. However, I am aware that it is not always possible to maintain this priority: indeed in civilization the interests of the animate are always tied to inanimate objects, and inanimate objects are hierarchical by their nature (one example is atomic energy plants, which are electricity providers and socially significant, expensive, technical projects). Therefore several opinions and stances that would be called “green” are not completely acceptable to us. The green stance often counter-productively blocks one project after the other, without trying to search and create more adequate alternatives.

Proceeding from this point, there are two simple consequences: language, one of the most widely-used and effective means of human interaction and influence, as well as one’s surrounding environment must be made as human and as animate as possible: we need fewer dead, non-human words, we need to be surrounded by the bare minimum of inanimate objects! In other words, language must be anthropocentric in its basic lexical composition, that is, not technocratic, as it is now, for example, but animacentric, i.e. to the largest extent possible filled with soul and animated. This entails the quality of materials, forms, the composition of things and objects – i.e. the aesthetics of the space that surrounds us every day – as well as the need for regular intercourse both with the natural and the cultured medium of nature.

As far as the molded, basic properties of a personality are concerned, I tend to agree, for example, with Socrates, who in his works “State” and “Laws” considered the cultivation of properties in a human being such as conscientiousness, responsibility to the world, society, and oneself, to be fundamentally useful for the shaping of humans. We can find elements of humanist education elaborated in the works of other predecessors of humanism: utopian philosophers, figures of the Renaissance and other later periods…

I apologize, but it is not the purpose of my presentation to lay out in complete detail a fully prepared system of humanist education for the judgment of those here. It is only possible to solve the problem of creating such a system through collective efforts. I had set for myself the goal of discussing only the fundamental principles and the structural skeleton of this feasible and inevitable humanist structure.

2. In this part of my presentation I will briefly answer the reasonable question: “What is to be done with those of us who were raised in the old summer-vacation systems or who were raised unsystematically and without order or, even worse, in the current anti-humanist culture?.. Or, one could ask, what is to be done with those people who in the future are raised in the humanist system of education up to adulthood and still do not develop smoothly and harmoniously?

For these cases there is the possibility of authentication – a system of harmonization for people whose basic formation has already taken place (in particular, the system of Sergey Petrovich Semenov, already known to you). This system has already proven its effectiveness to almost everybody – but only in the early and not the later stages of growth and development of concrete people (there simply has not yet been enough time for more). I imperatively recommend it both as a doctor and as a follower of the honorable Sergey Petrovich to those interested.

3. And finally, returning somewhat to the beginning, – to those approaches enumerated by Mr. I. Vachkov. Of course I, as you know, am sympathetic to the humanist thesis (not to be classified as liberal-pseudohumanist!) – that man by nature willingly strives for the best: to do good to others; to achieve positive self-realization and self-assertion; to discover absolute truth; to implement a rational, just, and not degrading personality hierarchy; and to objectively serve the chosen ideals… Why? Well, because in a human society that is normal to any extent, everything that I have enumerated will solidify and strengthen within man the feeling of harmony with oneself, with the people of the entire world, and the aspiration towards harmony fundamentally inherent to a high degree in human beings. The very condition of harmony is that which everyone desires (rich and poor, notable and obscure, enlightened and ignorant…) – the Bird of Happiness, which Humanity has so far been chasing throughout its entire history. I believe that we humanists will find this magic guiding bird and show it to the people, but we won’t catch it, no, we will show that with the help of the goodwill of good people it willingly and freely can take root and live in every human heart. I believe that this is possible and that the Humanist Transformation of civilization will take place!

St. Petersburg
April, 2006

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