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Education for Human Flourishing 2 (RJS)

posted by Jesus Creed Admin

IVP is publishing a series of books designed to help college students in a
variety of disciplines integrate a Christian worldview into their approach to their discipline.

The first book in this series is by Paul Spears and Steven Loomis entitled Education for Human Flourishing: A Christian Perspective.
This book addresses the question of the integration of a Christian
worldview with education and the philosophy of education. The book is
directed toward K-12 teaching in particular, but can also apply to
higher education. 

Today I would like to focus on two questions – coming in .part from the material in this book, in part from some of the discussion we have had on this blog in other contexts, and in part from my own experience.

What is the purpose and product of education?

What difference does a Christian world view make to the practice and purpose of education?

Scot has written here on the importance of an outcome based approach to education – in the University and in the Church. Certainly any instructor should have a clear view of the desired outcomes – otherwise the course is likely to resemble a meander to nowhere. But the  institutional (or governmental) imposition of external targets or outcomes seems too rigid – and standardized; or at least to be prone to the error of rigid standardization – a technical view of education.

Spears and Loomis spend a good deal of space in their book exploring the economy of information and the impact that this has on the social institutions of education. There is an emphasis on credentialing and standardization in a technical model of education popular today. The technical model streamlines production, works on economies of scale, decreases unpredictability, sets measurable targets and evaluates success in attaining the targets.

But this model loses sight of the student – teacher relationship, the importance and uniqueness of individuals.

Developing a student’s capacities, teaching for communion as opposed to compulsion, creating an atmosphere of genuine inclusion between educator and student – all of these have become problematic in today’s technical model of education. The institutional structure and environment does not easily support the development of capacity in communion. (p. 133)

In a later section they suggest that part of the problem is a tendency to look on “the teacher as technician and the student as commodity or product, essentially the raw material that is acted on and conditioned in behavioristic fashion.” Education is reduced to human capital development.

Consumerism – a variant in the technical view. In higher education this view of education often couples with the view of student as consumer. Colleges, by this definition, sell  information, credentials, and career advancement. This is a poor substitute for real education. This is a trend that concerns many educators. I have a colleague recently selected as the 2009 Carnegie Foundation Professor of the Year for Doctoral and Research Universities. In his acceptance speech he said that:

Educators should not only teach the examples, but also understand that they teach by example.
The fact is: long after the details of “the stuff’ are gone, lessons
that matter can linger and cling: the development of intellectual
character, moral citizenship, interpersonal respect, mentorship, and
leadership. 

and

… the consumerist mindset drives a wedge between students and their fundamental interactions with each other, with
professors, and with the outcomes from an authentic education.

Education is about humanness – it is about making peers out of students. Colleges and Universities don’t provide information – they produce creative, thinking, persons. The single most important factor in this process is relationship – the relationship between students and professors as people and the relationships amongst the students. Making a peer out of a student is an outcome, of course. But not one easily measured. 

Later in the speech:

Students are not the customers; they
are our younger “school siblings.” I wish we had a good word for it in
English, because we need a way to talk about it in order to preserve it.

Despite what we hear in the news, our country’s education system has
many other strengths, particularly how we inspire creativity and
invention by encouraging people to color outside the lines. What
concerns me about consumerism is that the pressure to use
subject-matter testing performance as the sole measure of educational
accomplishment is misplaced, threatens to minimize authentic education
to a form of certification, and puts our strengths at risk.

Overemphasis of “achievement testing” and content definition leads to a technical approach to education where the instructor is viewed as  a technician and an interchangeable employee. There is a temptation to reduce education to what is measured in test-taking; the goal is to train for the test, to set standards and generate rankings. Tests (and papers) are necessary – but not for evaluation. Tests are an important part of the education and learning process.

This brings me back to the questions I posed above and a few others.

What do you think is the purpose and product of education, either K-12 or higher education? Are professional schools different?

What difference does a Christian world view make to the practice and purpose of education if any?

One final note and question:

This book by Spears and Loomis is an academic book – aimed at
students of education – students who will teach and who will be
involved in school administration and curriculum development. One of
the commenters last week asked:

“My wife is a seventh grade science teacher. I would like to get a book
of this topic for my wife and I, but perhaps a bit more accessible,
(i.e. less like torture to read). Any suggestions?”

While I did not find the book torture,
or even like torture to read, it is a fairly  deep and academic book -
not light reading for the average teacher (or even professor). It is also not easy to dig into the content without discussion partners. So I have one final question.

Any good suggestions of books integrating faith with education practice written at a more accessible level?

If you wish to contact me, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net



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Scot McKnight

posted December 22, 2009 at 6:59 am


RJS,
My favorite line here: “Education is about humanness – it is about making peers out of students. Colleges and Universities don’t provide information – they produce creative, thinking, persons.”



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Diane

posted December 22, 2009 at 8:35 am


RJS,
I largely agree with what Spears/Loomis say and also echo Scot’s thoughts in comment 1. One comment: I was an education reporter for some years and see, unf., that No Child Left Behind was a desperate (imho) response to the continuing failure of schools, mostly in poor areas or with poor populations, to provide even a basic education to their children. It’s a problem , imho, when students graduate from a city high school and have to sign paperwork with an X because they’re illiterate. A concurrent problem was high aggregate test scores in “good” schools masking populations within the schools not being served–blacks, for example, or children with learning disabilities (remember, by definition, to be identified as learning disabled, you have to have at least a normal IQ–and most of these kids are bright–they simply have a problem, such as dyslexia or ADHD, that makes a normal classroom more difficult for them) that were/are lagging. No Child meets my Christian critierion of helping “the least of these:” and having been in many a classroom, I think if middle-class schools would relax a little, THEY could go on teaching the old way and their kids would score just fine on the standardized tests …well, I won’t go on.
The question of “what is the purpose of an education,” is the key issue. I have been adjunct teaching at the college level lately–for money–and while I love the students and I love college freshman in particular–I’ve had to back off and say “why AM I doing this?” “Why am I participating in this structure of authority that somewhat arbitrarily forces these kids to jump through hoops?” And while I have a beautifully designed syllabus meant to lead step-by-step to a higher goal, I think I need to throw it all out and really think about these issues and start from scratch. I think being a Christian sustains me in this kind of teaching by increasing my compassion for my students, but I am interested in what people have to say about what the purpose of an education is. I want to say, to think for yourself, to be able to speak truth to power, but is that so?



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Randy G.

posted December 22, 2009 at 9:26 am


I suggest two older books that get at the telos of education and at the relationship of worldview to action respectively.
Neil Postman, “The End of Education” (1996)
Nicholas Wolterstorff, Educating for Responsible Action (1980)
My latest favorite on this topic is
James K. A. Smith, “Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation.” Smith’s insight is to see the role of liturgy, or regularly repeated practices, in Christian formation (or counter-formation from the formation that the world offers). He then explores education as a formative, rather than merely informative, enterprise.
Peace,
Randy Gabrielse



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RJS

posted December 22, 2009 at 9:30 am


Diane,
I think you are probably right about No Child Left Behind. While it hurts good schools – by requiring them to concentrate on the wrong things, it is a way to ensure that many schools serve “the least of these.”
There is no neat clean solution here.
I have been thinking about this more from a University standpoint – where “the least of these” problem is not as much a part of the picture.



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dopderbeck

posted December 22, 2009 at 11:46 am


There’s lots to criticize about law school education, but one thing I think we do well is a type of formational education. We train students to “think like lawyers,” not merely to regurgitate legal rules. They have to learn the rules, of course, but the really important thing is starting to develop the “soft” skill of probing every angle of a problem. Many students resist this tooth and nail, because they’re so used to an educational model that emphasizes standardized “right” answers.
This is also something I really appreciate about the classes I’ve taken at Biblical Seminary. They aren’t dumping a bunch of doctrines on you (though we learn lots of doctrine), but are more about imparting the discipline of thinking theologically.



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RJS

posted December 22, 2009 at 11:54 am


dopderbeck,
I was wondering what you would say here. In my discipline as well – the key is not to learn rules and formulae – but to develop the “soft” skill of probing every angle of a problem. Students need to develop the thinking skills as creative scientists.
Perhaps this is why you and I annoy people here on occasion – rather than looking for expert answers, we probe the problems.
I think this should have serious implications for Christian education within a church as well – to get back to one of Scot’s favorite themes. Should churches and pastors try to develop these soft skills in the congregation? I think that this is how to disciple mature Christians.



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Scot McKnight

posted December 22, 2009 at 12:00 pm


David and RJS, I like this “soft skill” idea. Any specifics on what they might be?



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AHH

posted December 22, 2009 at 2:22 pm


I think one of the most important “soft skills” is to learn to appreciate shades of gray and to avoid simplistic (and often false) dichotomies. Unfortunately, a lot of the way people are trained in what RJS has called “the Evangelical ghetto” works against this skill.



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RJS

posted December 22, 2009 at 3:05 pm


Scot,
I’ve been trying to think of a way to get specific… this may take awhile (not the writing – the thinking). Simplistic answers won’t get it.
Answers and solutions only matter if accompanied by an understanding of why they are right, and what the underlying assumptions are – when they will hold and when they won’t.
And AHH is right – it is also being able to appreciate nuance. The soft skill is the ability to dissect a problem and get to the essence.
I’ll continue to think about this.



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Randy G.

posted December 22, 2009 at 3:17 pm


RJS and David,
Following Scot’s suggestion regarding “soft skills” — How does one “sell” such soft skills?
Peace,
Randy G.



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RJS

posted December 22, 2009 at 3:23 pm


Randy,
What do you mean by “sell”? Do you mean convince people that acquisition of such a skill set is worth paying for – either publicly or privately?



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dopderbeck

posted December 22, 2009 at 4:44 pm


Scot (#7) — I think one “soft” skill for lawyers is a kind of intellectual and practical patience. Students come to law school thinking that the law is a set of rules “out there” (probably in a big leather book in the library), which can simply be overlaid onto any dispute with sure results. They have to learn that the interesting cases require lots of careful factual and historical context, that the lawyer has a significant role in shaping the case from the start, and that the outcome often isn’t deterministic. There’s some distantiation involved here — you have to step back from the problem a bit, reserve judgment on some points, and offer solutions to the client that sometimes are creative and pragmatic but imperfect.
I’ve experienced the same thing as I’ve started to study theology. It’s never enough to cite a Bible verse or two, or to refer to Augustine or Calvin or Luther or Warfield or whomever; and usually the best you can do is offer a considered but provisional judgment with varying degrees of confidence.
I think another “soft” skill for lawyers is realizing that legal issues ultimately primarily are about relationships among people in concrete circumstances. As much as “the law” matters, it’s equally or sometimes more important to have an intuition about what the client really wants, what the adverse party really is thinking, what the Judge thinks should happen, and so on. The “truth” of the Law inheres more in its relational effects as human beings engage in transactions and resolve disputes than in the rules as the exist “on the books.”
I’m starting to see this also as a truism concerning theology. Good and true theology is about relationships: the relational life of the Triune God and God’s relationship to creation and humanity. Good and true theology works to transform the mind with the effect of producing the virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness and self-control. The “truth” of theology inheres more in its relational effects than in its correspondence to external philosophical norms (at least that is my perspective).
I take Randy (#10) to mean this: many people tend to think that the Bible is like an encyclopedia or car owner’s manual — if you have a question, look it up in the index, and you’ll find the answer. And this model is tied to a defensive posture, in my experience: the “answers” preserve the faith against challenges (a not entirely illegitimate concern).
So how do we encourage people to move towards a different paradigm? In particular, how do we encourage this without the freedom it entails turning into licentiousness? This seems difficult to me, particularly in that most local congregations include people of widely varying levels of spiritual maturity, who are getting lots of bad (IMHO) intellectual training from a variety of sources (e.g., popular radio), and who live in a culture of instant gratification. Maybe one possibility is to create “theologically safe spaces” where the agenda / outcome isn’t always entirely predetermined.



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RJS

posted December 22, 2009 at 5:09 pm


dopderbeck,
Science is somewhat different than either law or theology – but some of these ideas still carry over. Students expect rules and formulae – and plug and chug. But it is nowhere near this simple. We are exploring for solutions to problems – either to confirm, develop, or overturn theories.
Students want to appeal to authority – “the book says” or “Einstein said” – and this will not cut it. Certainly we all take somethings on authority – but because it has been shown not said. And everything is always, at some level, up for refinement and refutation.
One of the tactics I sometimes see in the discussion of evolution is an attempt to poke little holes as though it will undermine the entire structure. So the fact that the Cambrian explosion (for example) challenges some aspects of our current understanding of the evolutionary process doesn’t mean it dumps or challenges the entire theory. Scientific advancement is always a process of refinement – sometimes large and apparent paradigm shifts, sometimes smaller incremental changes.
Science isn’t really about relationships (although human relationships certainly play a role in the process and path, after all science is practiced by humans both individually and collectively) – but it is about coherence in an overall picture – and thinking critically about all of the parts.
With respect to theology, I agree – the point is relationships and the truth of theology is in its relational effects rather than in its portrayal of scientific factual truth. But one of the things I also bring to the mix is the importance of coherence – and this means coherence of all parts of the picture, our understanding of the nature of God’s creation from observation as well as the revelation of relationship.
Just an initial thought.



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Eric

posted December 22, 2009 at 6:10 pm


I want to second the recommendation of James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom. As Randy pointed out, Smith argues that education is more about formation than information. This is because human beings are fundamentally not “thinking things” but “loving, desiring animals.”
On that note, I want to push back a bit on the idea of “integration.” I’ve seen this idea before a number of times: “integration of faith and science,” “integration of faith and culture,” “integration of faith and learning,” etc. It suggests that we have 2 different things – faith and X – and the task of the Christian is to bring the 2 together into a coherent whole. If Smith is correct – that we are loving, desiring animals – then our faith is always already fundamental to everything we do. The task, then, is not so much “integration” but direction. How does faith direct learning? How is learning an expression of faith?



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Diane

posted December 22, 2009 at 7:34 pm


I teach college writing, and I emphasize to my students that while writing is something they can learn, it’s not something I can teach. I ask them to write about that. They’re usually quite insightful about it.
However, they want a clear set of rules and a template to follow and often they think if they could learn the rules of grammar “better,” that would be the key. I emphasize that good writing involves heart work and soul work, not just head work and certainly not just knowing the rules. But in the end, my problem becomes having to lay an evaluative grid over a person’s writing by being forced to assign grades. I am thinking about all this.



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John Fea

posted December 22, 2009 at 8:41 pm


Great post, RJS. I know I am coming into this discussion a bit late (at least by blogging standards), but I have been recently exploring some of these questions over at “The Way of Improvement Leads Home.”
It seems that a good liberal arts education requires both risk and wisdom. As Mark Schwehn argues in *Exiles from Eden* (a book every Christian educator should read), students need to take intellectual risks. To be truly educated they must be hospitable to a new idea to the extent that they can imagine embracing it as their own. This requires risk. It also may require some pain. Yet students also must pray for the WISDOM to know when it is necessary to surrender a cherished belief for a belief that better represents the truth. Wisdom might mean that a student rejects a new idea, but it also might mean that they change their minds. Either way, education happens. Colleges, especially Christian colleges, should provide a safe place for this kind of “education” to happen. See: http://www.philipvickersfithian.com/2009/12/what-is-liberal-arts-education-risk-and.html
On consumerism, my friend Lendol Calder, a historian of consumerism and a former Carnegie Foundation fellow, has some very practical things to say about students and consumerism that offers a bit of different perspective: http://www.philipvickersfithian.com/2009/12/student-consumerism-and-teacher_21.html



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AHH

posted December 22, 2009 at 10:22 pm


Well, Beliefnet lost the comment I spent 20 minutes composing — apparently I mistyped the Capcha and it lies when it says the comment is not lost. Scot, can’t you find a location for your blog that isn’t so buggy and riddled with ads (some of which, like the “You have won a FREE Wal-Mart gift card” popup, are flat-out scams)?
Anyway, let me try to summarize what I said.
Two more “soft” skills come to mind that should be produced by a good higher education. I’m writing mostly from a science standpoint, but these translate, including into theology.
1) The ability to keep forest and trees in proper proportion, which may vary from circumstance to circumstance. For example, I think some get caught up in the individual tree of some Biblical sub-story and lose the context of the big Story.
2) The ability to recognize when you have taken steps down a wrong intellectual path. Happened to me in a small way at work today, when I realized that these other scientists whose data I was trying to analyze probably had not really measured what I had been assuming they were measuring. Another example is if you are operating under the paradigm that the Bible must be a certain type of modernist perfection book, and it leads you to things like deciding Peter really denied Jesus 9 times or like fudging translations in Genesis to make things “line up” — a good education should give you the ability to step back and reconsider your paradigm.



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RJS

posted December 22, 2009 at 10:29 pm


John,
The second post on students as consumers is interesting. I don’t think that students are consumers to whom we are offering a product. Nor is the point the Prof. (me) and what I can offer them in the way of knowledge and enlightenment.
Rather the point – the product – is the student at the end of the course – or the degree. The student transformed into “peer” and more broadly a person who thinks with intellectual character and becomes a valued citizen of the professional and general human community.
This means meeting the students where they are, designing a course or curriculum to enable the desired outcome (teaching students to think “scientifically” among other things in my case). So the consumer features (CTools, wiki, sakai, whatever) if these enable the final goal, great. But it means keeping up with changes, trends, and so on.



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Nitika

posted December 22, 2009 at 11:27 pm


RJS: Great post!
What if educators (of all stripes) reserved judgment on what another person “ought” to know? And started with what they desire to know. What if we nurtured curiosity? What if we advised about what you need to know in order to know what you want to know? Then later we asked the question, “how do you know that your really know what you think you know?” And gave advice on how to know that you know.
It’s hard to talk formal education without dealing with status issues. When status is involved, everyone takes a defensive posture. For this reason, non-formal education seems to have much more potential for knowledge sharing.



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dopderbeck

posted December 23, 2009 at 9:07 am


RJS — “Science isn’t really about relationships”
Hmmm…. Here I’d challenge you to read Polanyi’s The Tacit Dimension. I think the practice of science is very much about relationships. This isn’t a radical postmodern critique of science, it’s a critical realism.



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RJS

posted December 23, 2009 at 9:41 am


dopderbeck,
The practice of science is about relationships. But ultimately relativity (for example) either accounts for the evidence or doesn’t. If a community decides it doesn’t – it is a detour, but the human consensus doesn’t change the underlying reality. I think law is different in that human decisions become “reality”. But perhaps you disagree.



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Steven Loomis

posted December 23, 2009 at 1:05 pm


Dear RJS and friends,
Bravo! This strikes me as a good conversation to have. Thanks RJS for pursuing this important line of thought. Several references have been made by discussants regarding the preservation of the human ? the full conception of human, which Christ came to impart ? within social institutions ? education, justice systems, medicine, science, et cetera ? whose information economies cannot bear that cost under scaler conditions. In nearly every instance, our language belies an effect of a subtle and invisible (often unconscious) trade-off: the idea of ?each? human being is traded off for ?all? human beings. In one of the fields I study, education, this can be witnessed in the outworking of the No Child Left Behind act of 2002. Title aside, the law aggregates to a mean by standardizing the student and teacher, moving questions away from the context of each child or teacher (expensive) to the context of all children and teachers (less expensive). A mass education system like ours has to do this in order to standardize production of a good. This occurs when the rules of production turnover, moving from a local situation (a school or school district) to a more central control (a national system). Rawls wrote about this in his 1955 essay, Two Concepts of Rules. Rule systems tend to move from general to specific. When they do, the information economy of a complex good like education changes precipitously. It is a short set of steps to the loss of the individual human being for an abstract conception of an average (or statistical mean) of human beings.
Speaking of ?older? works on education, two come to immediately to mind. Maritain?s Education at the Crossroads and C.S. Lewis?s Abolition. Lewis, of course, recognized these moves early, in his Abolition of Man work; a work on educational philosophy superior to any mentioned so far, particularly as to the fundamental aims and means for real, sustainable education.
For my colleague, dopderbeck , consider the institution of justice and the procedural context of death penalty cases in the state of Texas; the processes are so standardized as to trade-off a careful sense of justice of the individual human being (informationally expensive) for an efficient aggregative process (informationally inexpensive). By the way, there is a very good academic article waiting to be written here, evaluating the information economy of the application of the death penalty in Texas, or the three strikes laws in California. What works out is not justice in the ?old? sense, but a new form of ?justice? in a technical model of production (see fn. 18, p. 133 of our book for what constitutes the technical model).
Or consider Jurgen Habarmas? communicative rationality as trying to bridge the particular (the culture-bound, territorial-bound nation state) with the universal (Kantian cosmopolitanism). The cost of the bridging is lodged with the individual, not the collective. Or consider the philosophical moves made by political theorists Arrow, Rawls, Sen, or the moves various game theorists and economists make, in order to achieve a social consensus. Nearly always the cost is born by individual human beings.
I?ve read this particular blog and the one previous to it. Frankly, I am a little concerned that there has been a general pooh-poohing of the concept ?worldview? or general model of thought influencing the information environment of social institutions (cultural, political, and economic). Am working with some brilliant colleagues on a book about Stalin. While I?m not in a position to discuss the book until its published, it would seem to be a misunderstanding of social reality (and history) were one to allege that Stalin did not operate from a particular materialist (non-transcendent) ?worldview? that guided his rational decision-making. Stalin was quite a ?culture-maker?, after achieving his work as ?culture-destroyer.? I certainly must pick up Smith?s and Crouch?s works, but if they argue a compartmentalization of the Christian mind from penetrating all spheres of reality, a disengagement as active stewards of social reality, then I?ll need to pose a set of questions (remember, I?m not speaking about left-right political ideology; I?m talking about being competent ontological actors, agents of social institutions).
My initial questions to all here are,
(1) How do we as Christian scholars reply to (or engage) Lord Keynes? What are the implications of Keynes? statement for the cultural, political, and economic engagement of models of thought?: ?Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.?
(2) How do we as Christian scholars reply to (or engage) MacIntyre?s (1999) maxim? What does is argument imply about the (potential) social costs of an insulated or compartmentalized Christian mind?: ?Always ask about your social and cultural order what it needs you and others not to know.?
(3) How do we as Christian scholars reply to (or engage) the Technical Model (as a powerful model of thought and of production) as it begins to integrate, influence, and shape ? and de-humanize ? the nature and perception of nearly all complex goods and processes of production of social institutions?
Steven Loomis



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Eric

posted December 23, 2009 at 2:44 pm


Ha! I just read the first post in this series and saw that in the comments David said almost the same thing as me about “integration.” Great minds think alike, I guess. I swear I wasn’t plagiarizing you. :)
Steven (#22),
I think you should read Smith’s book, if you haven’t. He isn’t pooh-poohing “worldview.” He is arguing that education is not “first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love.” He is essentially trying to put “worldview” in its proper place, not dismiss it outright.



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