Fr. Mesrop Aramian
My two previous publications (Noyan Tapan weekly, April 7, 2015, and Tert.am website, March 16, 2015, ) and the present article are invitations to think about the problems of education.
In an ever-changing world we need to clarify and discern the challenges facing contemporary education and the paths of development for the future of the Armenian school. As a means of human self-actualization, education is a mission and calling for us all. And we can achieve results, if we are ready for in-depth discussion and if we are committed to transformation.
Knowledge or information?
It is commonly accepted that education is the purveyor of knowledge to the public. That is to say the educational institutions are basic centers where knowledge is forged and where students acquire their essential knowledge. Most people do not spare effort to educate their children; however, with rare exceptions they do not look deeper into whether that education matches its mission and aims. In the contemporary world the boundaries of education are continuously expanding and are going beyond the well-worn paths of the traditional institutional understanding. We are caught in the crossroad of information flows and need principles to orient us as to what can be expected of the traditional educational environment. If the educational institutions are not able to redefine their identity, then public confidence will gradually erode.
At the outset, let us differentiate knowledge from misguided notions about it. Many seem to confuse knowledge with information. Yet just as a seed is not yet synonymous with a crop, and embarking toward home does not ensure completion of that journey, there is still a long distance between information and knowledge. Knowledge results from man’s highest function — cognition — and it is a unique synthesis of thinking and understanding, informational impact and inner assertion, cultural conceptions and personal experience. And does the school system serve to nurture knowledge or does it simply overload students with irrelevant information? Is school an informational prison confining children for a period of time and having uncertain aims, or is it an environment fostering creativity, freedom, discovery of new things and harmony of the soul? It is ludicrous, but many schools both by their essence and their architecture resemble prisons, where the students’ consciousness is molded by stereotypes and where they are prepared for a life sentences as prisoners of a certain mindset.
Freedom and Creativity
Cognition is a liberator. As Christ said: “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” First, this means that the vector of cognition is aimed at the truth, and second, that the result of cognition, i.e., knowledge, sets man free and enlightens him. It sets us free from various things: ignorance, darkness, fear of uncertainty, sensual delusions, etc. Hence, the aim of education is the pursuit of truth and formation of a free person, one who has the courage to travel the path of cognition, the spirit to fight for the truth, and the will to seek liberation. This is the only way to acquire reliable knowledge and avoid cognitive delusions.
Certainly, we inherit many things along with our cultural legacy. We should be grateful to our parents for the treasures bequeathed to us. However we should beware of the psychology of passive consumption of our own culture. It is important to see the essence of our own identity and to realize the meanings of our own heritage. If we clear our vision, we will see that whatever we have obtained is a result of freedom of spirit and creativity, splendor and brilliance, struggle and devotion. All of that is ours if we have the spirit, but without the spirit, we are impoverished. We can communicate with the treasures of the past, if we have the spirit of creativity and take the liberating path of truth.
Freedom means overcoming boundaries. In this respect the result of cognition, true knowledge, leads to infinity and communication with eternity. We need not be terrified by what we do not know, if we have chosen the way of cognition and creativity. The unknown becomes a challenge. The triumph of time stands still before Bach’s music. The cosmos is no longer boundless thanks to Narekatsi’s prayers. Contemporary scientific notions have revolutionized centuries-old views on measure and limit, on the part and the whole. The smallest elementary particle is present in the cosmic infinity and has neither a part, nor a measure. The whole then is not a sum of its parts, but rather something essentially new.
Virtues as the Bases for Knowledge
Cognition and morality are inseparable companions. This is true especially when we talk about educational methods. The virtues are the basic stimulus for cognition. On our way to the truth we need wisdom in order not to confuse information flows with meanings and to make knowledge effective through our deeds. We need courage not to fear embracing the infinity. We need temperance to keep hold of ourselves in the sway of the senses and to listen to the tender voice of infinity and harmony. We need justice to assess ourselves and others honestly, seeing God and ourselves in humans. Faith forms the base we rely on to contain the uncontainable, to define the indefinable, to fathom infinity in an instant. Hope is the presence of the future and the restraint of time. Love is the fulfillment of goodness and life, and our unity with God.
Language and Language Awareness
Man is a reasoning creature, that is, a creature gifted with logos, speech, which is the highest ability of humans and the main instrument of cognition. According to Christian theology, God himself appeared to us as the Word: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” That is to say that speech is the presence of the Divine in humans. Hence, language is the basis for human identity. Oral and written speech, language awareness, and the art of speech are indicators of who we are. And the main mission of education is the development and improvement of the language abilities of the student. In general this is the formation of language culture. But how do we speak or write today? How do we reason and substantiate it? Where are the beauty and harmony of our speech? Gradually, our language is being stripped of spirit, oral noise dominates over the music of our speech. This problem requires a multifaceted and comprehensive solution. While cherishing our language, society looks to education to release us from stereotypical approaches and dry pedants. We need to understand that the language is a living ecosystem that determines what we give the student in this life of ever widening choices.
The Core of Education or the Essence of Meanings
One more important question: what is the core of education in our country and in general? The amount of information is ever increasing. Academic subjects fragment human consciousness and we lose our sense of integrity. We get lost in details and lose sight of the bigger picture. This inexorable attack of fragmentation may have serious consequences and we may eventually lose the sense of happiness. But all of us wish and are prepared to make any sacrifices for the happiness of our children. Hence all of us need to understand what the core of education, its semantic essence and its generalizing function are. For centuries that core was philosophy. People were studying different academic subjects but they always had the tools for generalizing and conceptualizing. It is hard to even evaluate what the education lost when it denied the central role of the meaning and philosophy. Can anything substitute for the dialogues of Plato? Definitely not.
Things to be Done
It is time to rethink education. The curricula need to be seriously revised and refocused and the cognitive vector of education should be aimed at development of high-order thinking skills and creativity (there is talk about this, but little progress). The moral growth and development of the student must be made the basis of education. The educational program should precisely define the learning outcomes for a student and should have a detailed road map for achieving those outcomes for each and every student. It is necessary to fundamentally rethink the educational programs for teaching language arts and to make the development of language awareness a cornerstone of educational strategy. In a world of knowledge fragmentation and differences of opinion, it is a vital necessity to establish generalizing and mutually reinforcing interdisciplinary connections around a meaningful, cognitive core.
This has been an attempt, without absolute claims, to identify some important things to be done, keeping in mind that this list is subject to expansion. One thing is certain: education is a living phenomenon that must evolve with the times. Neither the delusions of the past nor baseless confidence in the future can bring positive results. Both the past and the future pose challenges. Behind there are abysses of omissions and ahead are abysses of opportunities. What we have is the present, which may become a springboard to leap across these abysses.