Friday, June 12, 2009

EP's Golden Rule

Getting Back to Where We Went Astray 

By John Taylor; 2009 June 12, Nur 06, 166 BE

John Comenius stands with Socrates as one of the greatest teachers and theorists of curricula in the history of education. We have seen since the beginning of our study that Comenius believed in making full use of whatever means necessary, including humour, demonstrations, field trips, and even games and amusements, to arouse the interest of students and to remove their inertia and apathy. Since his aim was always universality -- hence the name Panorthosia, Universal Reform -- he held that the teacher should go to whatever lengths necessary to reach everybody, and not leave virtue, knowledge and action only to a few.

As part of accomplishing this, he proposed that the leaders, guides and teachers of society make full use of what we now call slogans. We have already studied in detail the brief slogans he proposed for the three branches of world government, as well as for the individual and the family. Comenius suggested that these slogans be posted in prominent places as constant reminders of what the institution in question is all about. I have suggested that we make beautiful, dynamically updated designs based upon them called "escutcheons." Escutcheons would be a system of public rewards posted not only above doorways and on walls but also on websites and other prominent locations in cyberspace.

At the end of the sixth chapter of Panorthosia Comenius suggests a slogan for the purification principle we have been studying, that of elimination of prejudice. He calls it the "Golden Rule" of removing of blocks to reform,

"Even now it is obviously necessary to adopt as a golden rule: LET US RETURN TO THE WAY FROM WHENCE WE HAVE GONE ASTRAY!" (Panorthosia II, Ch. 6, para 10, p. 102)

As he makes clear, Comenius has in mind Isaiah 53:6, "We had all strayed like sheep, each of us had gone his own way; but the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all." (NEB) Like sheep or other herding animals, when humans no longer know, will and act in unison the survival of the whole is compromised. A single wolf, as it were, can pick them off one by one at its leisure. Wandering alone, each sheep sees only its own way, which dooms not only it but the whole flock. The only salvation is through suffering and sacrifice. Although it is a profound spiritual reality, it has visible outward characteristics towards which we can navigate.

"LET US RETURN, therefore, I. from confusion through simplicity to unity; II. from errors through rejection of opinions to truth; III. from conflicting pursuits and fighting through love of common welfare to peace and concord." (Ch. 6, para 12, p. 102)

The need to return to where we went astray is increasingly being recognized as we try and fail to respond substantively to climate change. One Dutch scientist who was part of an international panel examining how to make agriculture sustain humanity without destroying the environment confirmed the need for this in a recent essay.

"A close understanding of how institutions determine individual behaviour might even curb the enthusiasm for `methodological individualism', the tendency to explain collective things such as the marketplace as a necessary outcome of individual choices." (Niels Roling, "Why we need a proper study of mankind," New Scientist, 14 January 2009,

At the heart of prejudice, then, is so-called "methodological individualism," a reductionist belief that it is possible to chop knowledge into component atoms and still come to grips with the whole. The path from which we have gone astray and to which we must return now, then, is that of polity, where everybody has a common vision, where every part learns and works together in harmonious groups and subgroups for the welfare of all. Comenius explains his "return whence we went astray" solution thus:

"But as it will become evident that we have all taken such divergent paths since we departed from the true way (I mean the way of universality which we should all follow, and the way of simplicity, where we should go without stumbling, and the way of agreement which we should gladly take towards ends that are manifestly good, according to God's will for all of us) it will at the same time be obvious that we must all return to a common way." (Ch. 6, para 9, p. 102)

The question remains, in what sense is this a "Golden Rule" of elimination of prejudice? Let us put that off until tomorrow.

John Taylor



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