Perception as the Goddess of Intellect — Aristotle’s Notions on Education
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. Aristotle, Corpus Aristotelicum
Aristotle was an ancient Greek philosopher and scientist and is considered “the Father of Western Philosophy.” His writings cover many subject areas including — physics, biology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, psychology, rhetoric, politics and government, to name a few. Though a student of Plato, Aristotle diverged from Platonic thought on many topic areas, including Education. Aristotle believed that all concepts and knowledge were ultimately based on perception. In this essay, Aristotle’s notions about education and perception are examined, and then compared to the modern notions of education, in particular, primary education.
Much of the marketing efforts of the modern educational institutions, both private and public, taut an educational focus on the development of the “whole-child,” the components of which include cognitive, social, physical, emotional and, if applicable, spiritual. This “idea” can be traced back to the roots of educational theory which, in fact, can find their origins in Ancient Greek philosophy. Aristotle, in his concept of education, placed a strong emphasis on “balanced” development, not unlike the modern marketing emphasis on the development of “the whole-child.” However, the two formations of this concept do differ in both theory and praxis. For Aristotle, “balance” in primary education consisted of engaging a child in the following areas — play, gymnastics (physical training), music, art, reading and writing. These subject areas were thought to be relevant for the ages of 7–14. The aim of education, according to Aristotle, was not only the attainment of knowledge, but also the attainment of happiness and “goodness.” Therefore, the aim of education was focused on the welfare of the individual so as to bring happiness to their lives. “Goodness” was divided in to two categories, “goodness” of intellect and “goodness” of character. The fields of Education, Psychology, Science and Philosophy have had over 2000 years to build on these initial concepts and attempt to develop a system of education to help “grow” a child in to a thriving, educated (see Knowledge, Knowing and How Knowledge is Achieved) and productive member of society.
For Aristotle, early childhood education was to be done in the home, and after that, the State was responsible. Aristotle built on Plato’s central idea that moral thinking must be integrated with our emotions and appetite, and that preparation for “goodness” of character and intellect must begin in childhood. Harnessing the power of the young mind toward the pursuit of “goodness” is a complex endeavor. Two thousand plus years after Aristotle wrote about “ethics” and “sound reason,” developing the mind, body and soul of a human being, we are still debating what lie at the foundation of acquiring knowledge and creating citizenship. Aristotle inquires about what “the good” is for a human being, not resting on the notion that humans necessarily want to have knowledge, but rather, knowledge is pursued because human beings can more fully develop an understanding of what it is to flourish if “good” can be achieved. This places knowledge as a vehicle for becoming rather than an end goal in itself. Education, therefore, is a pursuit of “the good” and not a static state of information accumulation (see The Emperor is Naked! Hegemony in Education).
The education system can be changed to accommodate all learners and to refocused to once again regain its long-lost function of nurturing “goodness.” This systemic change needs to begin by re-defining what knowledge is, how knowledge is most functionally attained, and what strategies, ideas and interventions best support growing an active, engaged and thoughtful learner. Movement toward creating flourishing human beings needs to rest on the foundations of connection. Whole-person assessments can replace standardized tests (see
https://www.edutopia.org/performance-assessment-math). Teacher and student created portfolios can be used to assess knowledge, while building connection. Concepts and interventions of Interpersonal Neurobiology, a movement created and advanced by Dr. Dan Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine, can be instituted to help frame guided connection in student-teacher relationships, replacing Skinnerian Behaviorist principles and interventions. Education must once again find its roots, drawing on the power and insights of philosophers such as Aristotle, while implementing the scientific interventions of humanistic thinkers such as Dr. Dan Siegel.
“Good habits formed at youth make all the difference.”
See Part 2 of this article on Medium — Perception as the Goddess of Intellect — Aristotelian Roots of Education and Creating a Flourishing Human Being