Education in Encounter

In Dialogue with Martin Buber on Education
Jeremy F Price

Paper prepared for PL828: German-Jewish Thinkers, Boston College December 11, 2008

Jeremy F Price

German-Jewish Thinkers

Education in Encounter

Contained within his vast works, Martin Buber has written specifically about education. As a Jew concerned deeply with the revitalization and renewal of his people and at the forefront of the “Jewish Renaissance,” while concomitantly grappling with the opportunities of political Zionism (Biemann, 2002), education held a unique position in Buber’s thinking. These writings on education were couched in his deep concern for dialogue and relation as well as his own engagement with “[t]he sickness of our age [which] is unlike that of any other and yet belongs to the sickness of all” (Buber, 1996). Buber’s philosophy of the enterprise of education—teaching, learning, and curriculum— is as subtle and nuanced as his approach to dialogue and the I-You1 relationship, and enters the discussion, it seems, somewhat reluctantly. Indeed, Buber saw the need for education as a particular construct and institution as symptomatic of the age: There was a time, there were times, where there neither was nor needed to be any specific calling of educator or teacher. There was a master, a philosopher or a coppersmith, whose journeymen and apprentices lived with him and learned, by being allowed to share in it, what he had to teach them of his handiwork or brainwork. But they also learned, without either their or his being concerned with it, they learned, without noticing they did, the mystery of personal life: they received the spirit. This subtle reluctance and his philosophic orientation as a Jewish existentialist—foreign to most contemporary educators—have led to a number of cases where the spirit of Buber has been unintentionally violated in educational writings and research. Maurice Friedman, Buber’s biographer, called educator Sir Herbert Read to task for “…distort[ing] and do[ing] violence to Buber’s philosophy of dialogue” (1956). Haim Gordon (1973) similarly critiques J. R. Scudder’s

In this paper, I will adopt the I-You convention of Kaufmann’s translation of I and Thou (Buber, 1996), although quotations from books and articles which utilize the I-Thou convention will be retained.

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article “Freedom with Authority: A Buber Model of Teaching” (1968) as “a gross misinterpretation”: “Not only will I argue that imposing the word ‘model’ on Buber’s educational thought distorts it, but, what is more important, that Buber’s search for a philosophy of the whole man has profound implications for education that no ‘model’ can disclose” (Gordon, 1973, p. 215). In a sense, Friedman and Gordon are arguing that Buber’s work has inappropriately entered the sphere of the I-It, the sphere of use and experience. A similar critique can be made of other recent educational works such as by Adkins (1999), Carroll and Bowman (2000), and Gorsky and Caspi (2005), where a small slice of Buber’s dialogic philosophy is used to advance a particular argument or research agenda. These critiques can be made in light of Buber’s attitudes towards the transmission of knowledge down the ages: Let those who ask about this realm call to mind one of the traditional sayings of a master who died thousands of years ago. Let them try, as best they can, to receive this saying with their ears—as if the speaker had said it in their addressing them. To this end they must turn with their whole being toward the speaker, who is not at hand, of the saying that is at hand. In other words, they must adopt toward the master who is dead and yet living that attitude which I call You-saying. Buber himself adopted this attitude of “You-saying” in his essay “Education” (1965b). In this essay, he faithfully represents a particular view of learner-centered pedagogy, popular among many educators and schools of education to this day. It is only in the second half of the essay where he discusses his deep disagreements with this view of education. This paper seeks to engage in a dialogue with the educational writings of Martin Buber and I make every attempt to avoid “using” the works of Buber for my own purposes. I will first

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briefly outline Buber’s dialogic philosophy and his view of “the sickness of our age.” Next, I will attempt to represent Buber’s positions on education as You-sayings. I will draw primarily, though not exclusively, upon his essays “Education” (Buber, 1965b), “The Education of Character” (Buber, 1965c), “On National Education” (Buber, 1963), and “Teaching and Deed” (Buber, 2002). I will examine Buber’s unique stances on the purpose of education, curriculum, and pedagogy in light of his dialogic philosophy and his engagement with “the sickness of our age.” Lastly, I will engage Buber’s writings in light of what the field of education has become in our own contemporary times, considering the added challenges to Buber’s educational philosophy, as well as the potential for renewed purpose one can find for education in Buber’s writings. Buber’s Dialogic Philosophy Buber’s writings on education stem from his philosophy on the primacy of relationship through encounter and dialogue. Most interactions occur as I-It, in which the I experiences or uses. Buber considers I-It as a surface encounter, as one “…goes over the surface of things and experiences them” (Buber, 1996, p. 55). “Experience” in its essence is a non-participatory way of being: “Those who experience do not participate in the world. For the experience is ‘in them’ and not between them and the world” (Buber, 1996, p. 56). Goal-directed interactions occur as IIt. The I-You relationship in contrast, occurs “…by grace—it cannot be found by seeking” (Buber, 1996, p. 62). In such a relationship, a human being truly encounters another individual human being; the You is singled out recognized “[n]ot as if there were nothing but he; but everything else lives in his light” (Buber, 1996, p. 59). The I and the You never lose their distinctness, but are responsible for one another. Such an encounter is further unmediated and 3

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immediate, and even “[t]his essential twofoldness cannot be overcome by invoking a ‘world of ideas’ as a third element that might transcend this opposition” (Buber, 1996, pp. 64-65). Because of the immediateness of the I-You relationship it cannot exist eternally: “And in all seriousness of truth, listen: without It a human being cannot live. But whoever lives only with that is not human” (Buber, 1996, p. 85). Human encounter shifts back and forth between I-It and I-You (as grace allows), and, inevitably, back again. Like therapy and religious leadership, Buber considers education as a special case of the I-You relationship, one of incomplete mutuality, which he terms “embracing” (Buber, 1996) or “inclusion” (Buber, 1965b), so that the teacher “…must live through this situation in all its aspects not only from his own point of view but also from that of his partner” (Buber, 1996, p. 178). This relationship is one way, for if embracing is practiced on both sides, the relationship dissolves from an educational into friendship (Buber, 1965b): It is essential that [the teacher] should awaken the I-You relationship in the pupil, too, who should intend and affirm his educator as this particular person; and yet the educational relationship could not endure if the pupil also practiced the art of embracing by living through through the shared situation from the educator’s point of view. (Buber, 1996, p. 178) The particularities of the educational relationship will be explored in more detail later in this paper. First, I will discuss Buber’s critique of the sickness of our age in light of his dialogic philosophy. Buber’s writings on education are in a large part in response to this view of the world and its constraints.

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German-Jewish Thinkers Buber In Dialogue With The Age

Education in Encounter

Buber’s critique of the sickness of our age is in large part based on his philosophy of actual and relational dialogue, and the challenges of the times to it. In essence, Buber asserts that the world has become stuck in a series of experiences, allowing primarily for the development of I-It relationships. The challenges of the age are anti-dialogical, according to Buber; they not only pose special challenges for education, but they have paradoxically brought about the need for the institution of education in the first place (Buber, 1965b). This frozen I-It existence—a condition of alienation—is manifold. According to Buber, a breakdown of traditional bonds has left a sense of boundless freedom in its wake (Buber, 1965b). This breakdown of bonds and exaltation of freedom has also left no room for values and norms, leaving a chasm “…between a world which for several millennia has believed in a truth superior to man, and an age which does not believe in it any longer—will not or cannot believe in it any longer” (Buber, 1965c, p. 110). Buber notes that another symptom of the age is collectivism, metaphorically represented by Buber as the “collective Moloch,” which has affected totalitarian and democratic nations alike: To-day host upon host of men have everywhere sunk into the slavery of collectives, and each collective is the supreme authority for its own slaves…. Against the values, decrees and decisions of the collective no appeal is possible... Men who have so lost themselves to the collective Moloch cannot be rescued from it by any reference, however eloquent, to the absolute whose kingdom the Moloch has usurped. (Buber, 1965c, p. 110) Moloch—which shares the same root as the Hebrew word for “king” (‫—)מלך‬refers to a Canaanite god specifically vilified in the Tanakh. For example, Leviticus 18:21 states: “And thou shalt not

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let any of thy seed [offspring] pass through (the fire) to Molekh2…” (The Jerusalem Bible, 1992). The authors of the Bible are so concerned about the blindness of the followers of Moloch that they feared people would go as far as to sacrifice their own children in the name of the god. Buber renewed this symbol to stand for the idea of collectivity, which is a “…great link-up of economic and political forces inimical to the play of romantic fancies… a thing which the individual has to belong to with no intimacies of any kind but all the time conscious of his energetic contribution” (Buber, 1958, p. 136). The problems wrought by this collectivism, according to Buber, are compounded by a sense of relativism based on membership in “groups.” While Buber refers specifically to national groups, one can consider other group membership based on political, ethnic, geographic, or socioeconomic affiliation. The danger of these groups is that as the “…expressions of the life of a group which translates its own needs into the language of objective claims, until at last the group itself… is raised to an absolute value—and moreover to the only value.” This denies a space for “…a sphere of values common to mankind, and a commandment to mankind is no longer observed” (Buber, 1965c, p. 109). This relativism leaves us deaf to “unconditioned address” so that concepts such as the notions of good and evil are problematized. Buber frames these moral concepts in dialogic and responsibility-oriented, rather than absolute, terms: Good and evil are not each other’s opposites like right and left. The evil approaches us as a whirlwind, the good as a direction. There is a direction, a ‘yes,’ a command, hidden even in a prohibition, which is revealed to us in moments like these the command addresses us really in the second person, and the Thou in it is no one else but one’s own self. (Buber, 1965c, p. 114)
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Molekh is the Hebrew pronunciation of Moloch.

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Buber reminds us that when addressed to us as a You, as an individual, we should recognize the meaning of the good commands—as a direction to help us find our ways. The sickness of the age, however, has blocked us from recognizing this meaning, leaving us suspicious of it. All of this leads, according to Buber, to the loss of community. Buber defines community—or, rather, “growing community”—as …being no longer side by side but with one another of a multitude of persons. And this multitude, though it moves towards one goal, yet experiences everywhere a turning to, a dynamic facing of, the other, a flowing from I to Thou. (Buber, 1965a) Even the individual turning inwards is connected to community, for “…human inwardness is in origin a polyphony in which no voice can be reduced to another… but only heard in the present harmony” (Buber, 1965b, p. 86). Buber fears that modern psychology, with its tendencies toward reduction and generalization, compounds this loss (Buber, 1965b). It should be noted that while Buber provides a critique of the age, his critique is in terms of “the existential condition” rather than “…specific historical forms and structures…” (Silberstein, 1990, p. 183). This allows Buber to critique how the sickness of our age fosters a condition of alienation and concomitantly provide for the possibility for dialogue, relationship, and community to be established and flourish within these times and in this world, not outside of them. Instead of fomenting revolution to overthrow the structures which oppress, Buber engages in dialogue with the age. Rather than only railing against the system, Buber insists on the interhuman dimension, the importance of the I-You relationships: What is decisive, is whether the spirit—the You-saying, responding spirit—remains alive and actual; whether what remains of it in communal human life continues to be subjected to the state and the economy, or whether it becomes independently active; whether what

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abides of it in individual human life incorporates itself again in communal life. (Buber, 1996, p. 99) Buber finds the process of education particularly powerful in combating the frozen I-It nature found in the sickness of our age (Silberstein, 1990). Understanding the Situation: The Purpose of Education According to Buber When considering the purpose of education in contemporary times, one is often drawn to thinking about one or several positions on education: the transmission of knowledge, the development of the child, meeting the needs of society, or reconstructing society (Schiro, 2007). Buber, in dialogue with the times, addresses the purpose of education differently: The question which is always being brought forward—‘To where, to what, must we educate?’—misunderstands the situation. Only times which know a figure of general validity—the Christian, the gentleman, the citizen—know an answer to that question, not necessarily in words, but by pointing with the finger to the figure which rises clear in the air, out-topping all. The forming of this figure in all individuals, out of all materials, is the formation of a ‘culture.’ But when all figures are shattered, when no figure is able any more to dominate and shape the present human material, what is there left to form? Nothing but the image of God. (Buber, 1965b, p. 102) Within this situation, the primary need for the educator is not to teach “something” in particular, although, according to Buber, this purpose is important, nor is the educator called upon to allow for the natural development of the child in an environment of freedom, although seen by Buber as a necessary steppingstone. The educator instead is, …set now in the midst of the need which he experiences in inclusion, but only a bit deeper in it. He is set in the midst of service, only a bit higher up, which he invokes 8

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without words; he is set in the imitatio Dei absconditi sed non ignoti3. (Buber, 1965b, p. 103) In Buber’s dialogic philosophy, all I-You relationships contain a glimpse of God: “[e]xtended, the lines of relationships intersect in the eternal You” (Buber, 1996, p. 123). The educator provides a reflection of the image of God, and—by participating in I-You dialogue with his or her pupils—provides a generation with this glimpse of the divine image. Buber concretizes this purpose by asserting that education should be oriented toward the education of character. The educator provides “…the image of a great character who denies no answer to life and the world, but accepts responsibility for everything essential that he meets” (Buber, 1965c, p. 116). The notion of responsibility is the key to understanding Buber’s conception of character. Buber sees self-responsibility as well as responsibility to others and to situations as the clearest expression of character, and he contrasts his view to the “voluntary obedience to maxims” of Kerschensteiner and the “interpenetration of habits” of Dewey (Buber, 1965c, pp. 111-112). In essence, the educator prepares the pupil to face what he or she will meet with his or her whole being. In terms of meeting one’s historical situation: In spite of all similarities every living situation has, like a newborn child, a new face, that has never been before and will never come again. It demands of you a reaction which cannot be prepared beforehand. It demands nothing of what is past. It demands presence, responsibility; it demands you. (Buber, 1965c, p. 114) Such a goal is not couched within a static or reified system of morality, but instead is involved in relocating the sphere of relationship and responsibility to others. The diversity of individuals—the sense of Otherness—is neither minimized nor normalized, but instead embraced
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Latin, “imitation of the God who is hidden but not unknown.”

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while also recognizing the connections between us, “…the great dynamic unity of the multiform in which multiformity is formed into unity of character” (Buber, 1965c, p. 116). In that he often considers education in light of the burgeoning Zionist presence on the world’s political stage and the reestablishment of the State of Israel, Buber’s purpose of education also contains an element of renewal in that the individual needing to meet the present situation is informed by past teachings. This notion takes on a special sense in the case of the establishment of the Jewish state, to ensure that Israel does not freeze once the political state is established (Buber, 1963). In a general sense, Buber phrases the idea of renewal as the relationship between a child and his parents: A child does not represent the sum total of his parents; the child is something that has never been before, something quite unpredictable. Similarly, a generation can only receive the teachings in the sense that it renews them. We do not take unless we also give. (Buber, 2002, p. 235) Such a position in terms of the purpose of education requires a fairly faithful representation of the “teachings” as well as a “…critical-reflective encounter with history, a meaning-making engagement with all those traditions constituting the spiritual-cultural heritage” (Murphy, 1988, p. 112). This places responsibility on the educator to select and provide this representation of the teachings to the pupil, but then also provide some amount of autonomy to the learner to make sense of it. To connect back to Buber’s critique of the sickness of the age, community—the act of communion—can be found at the core of his purpose of education: “Genuine education of character is genuine education for community” (Buber, 1965c, p. 116). By focusing on the relationships and responsibilities of individuals to one another, Buber is not concerned only with

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the development or achievement (to use a contemporary term) of any one individual, but with the way that individuals engage in dialogue with each other and their actual historical conditions. Buber’s conception of the “content” of the teacher-pupil encounter—the curriculum—is discussed in the following section. Curriculum: The Purposeful Selection of the World Despite his focus on the formation of character and renewal in his purposes of education, Buber does not deny that something must be taught, neither simply created anew nor transmitted verbatim. In order to prepare the pupil to engage in dialogue with others and with the historical situation, Buber suggests that education draw upon the world itself for its content: What we term education, conscious and willed, means a selection by man of the effective world: it means to give decisive effective power to a selection of the world which is concentrated and manifested in the educator. The relation in education is lifted out of the purposelessly streaming education by all things, and is marked off as purpose. (Buber, 1965b, p. 89) In such an approach, there is a great deal of power and responsibility instilled in the educator to take in the world and mark it with purpose. While he clearly puts a great deal of import on passing on the traditions and history of the past, Buber also recognizes the limitations of such an approach. He notes that there is an inherent danger in which the “will to educate” degenerates into arbitrariness, so “…that the educator may carry out his selection and his influence from himself and his idea of the pupil, not from the pupil’s own reality” (Buber, 1965b, p. 100). As such, the process of selection—the curriculum—is strongly influenced by Buber’s dialogic philosophy, so that the educator must be able to understand his or her pupils and what they experience in their world. 11

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Buber provides an example of such a purposeful streaming of the world in education, drawing upon the political and often violent situation between the incoming Jews and the Arabs in pre-Israel Palestine (Buber, 1965c, pp. 109-110). Buber poses the question for this dialogue, centered around the idea of Jewish reprisal for acts of violence: “Can there be any suspension of the Ten Commandments, i.e. can murder become a good deed if committed in the interest of one’s own group?” The dialogue builds in intensity between the pupil (asserting the need to act on behalf of his family and his people) and the teacher (who is speaking on behalf of the traditions, extending a hesitance towards reprisal). The account ends with an emotional outburst by the student: “Live? Outlive? Do you call that life? We want to live!” Buber responds that “…the test of the educator lies in conflict with his pupil. He has to face this conflict and, whatever turn it may take, he has to find the way through it into life…” (Buber, 1965c, p. 110). The curriculum—as a purposeful streaming of the world—should provide the opportunity for such dialogue, which Buber points out “…is no longer merely a conflict between two generations, but between a world which for several millennia has believed in a truth superior to man, and an age which does not believe it any longer…” (Buber, 1965c, p. 110). With such (difficult) exchanges, the teacher has the opportunity to help students renew themselves in light of traditional truths to meet their own historical situations. This is not to say that Buber does not see the value of teaching what are considered the standard subjects of schooling. For example, Buber provides another example related to the teaching of algebra: If I have to teach algebra I can expect to succeed in giving my pupils an idea of quadratic equations with two unknown quantities. Even the slowest-witted child will understand it so well that he will amuse himself by solving equations at night when he cannot fall

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asleep. And even one with the most sluggish memory will not forget, in his old age, how to play with x and y. (Buber, 1965c, pp. 104-105) While this may be a slightly optimistic view of the effects of algebra class, Buber does not situate the learning of this specific content and these specific skills as central to education as his critics (e.g., Hawkins, 2002; Scudder, 1988). Instead, the purpose of curriculum is oriented toward fostering encounters with others and helping pupils engage with their historical situations in the light of their spiritual and cultural traditions (Murphy, 1988). Buber sees the traditional subjects of school as easily transmitted from teacher to student, but educating for character, allowing the pupil to fully meet their historical situation, is much more problematic (Buber, 1965c). Buber’s view of curriculum may be summarized by one of the Hasidic tales made available to the wider world by Buber himself: The maggid of Koznitz said: “Our sages very properly emphasized that in the first psalm, the Torah is called ‘the law of the Lord,’ and later ‘his Torah.’ For if a man learns the Torah for its own sake, then it is given to him, and it is his, and he may clothe all his holy thoughts in the holy Torah. (Buber, 1991, p. 1:287) When the “content” of character—traditional teachings—is embodied by the teacher, and the teacher and pupil enter into the inclusive I-You relationship, the pupil learns from tradition and is able to live out his or her own life “clothed” in the teachings. The particularities of the special form of the I-You relationship between the teacher and the pupil, how the teacher fosters this sense of dialogue and renewal, will be examined in the next section.

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German-Jewish Thinkers The Inclusive Teacher-Pupil Relationship

Education in Encounter

As mentioned earlier, Buber believes that the necessity for education itself is only a product of the sickness of our age, as is the necessity for the teaching profession. In other ages, the teachings, the spirit, the culture, are received simply through living out one’s life (Buber, 1965b). The view of who would constitute an “educator” is seen in this Hasidic tale: They asked Rabbi Mikhal: “In the Sayings of the Fathers we read: ‘Who is wise?’ He who learns from all men, as it is said, ‘From all my teachers I have gotten understanding.’ Then why does it not say: ‘He who learns from every teacher’?” Rabbi Mikhal explained: “The master who pronounced these words, is intent on having it clear that we can learn not only from those whose occupation is to teach, but from every man. Even from one who is ignorant, or from one who is wicked, you can gain understanding as to how to conduct your life.” (Buber, 1991, p. 1:146) In an age which is healthy, one can learn just by entering into dialogue or a relationship with an Other. Education is in the encounter (Buber, 1965b). An age which is sick, however, requires the professional educator. In order to fulfill Buber’s purpose of helping to form character, the educator must enter into a specialized I-You relationship with the pupil. Buber refers to this specialized form of I-You relationship as an “inclusive relationship” (Buber, 1965b). The inclusive I-You relationship must also have an event in common, which in the case of education is comprised of the teachings or the purposeful selection of the world. Inclusiveness is a one-way form of the I-You relationship, with the educator expected to experience the teachings from two sides, his or her own and that of the pupil. If the pupil were to experience the teachings from the side of the teacher, however, “…the educative relationship would be burst asunder, or change into friendship” (Buber, 1965b, pp. 100-101).

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Buber notes that this is not a general I-You dialogic relationship, that it is special in the sense that there is the potential for real power imbalances to enter into the process just by the nature of the relationship itself, as “[w]hat is otherwise found only as grace4, inlaid in the folds of life—the influencing of the lives of others with one’s own life—becomes here a function and a law” (Buber, 1965b, pp. 99-100). The sense of “function” and “law” provide for the possibility for such a relationship to easily enter into the realm of I-It. Gaining the trust of, recognizing one’s responsibility for, and finding humility in the face of the pupil are the only way for the educator to gain a “paradoxical legitimacy.” This trust and responsibility can furthermore be gained only by experiencing the teachings from the perspective of the pupil for [i]t is not enough for him to imagine the child’s individuality, nor to experience him directly as a spiritual person and then to acknowledge him. Only when he catches himself ‘from over there,’ and feels how it affects one, how it affects this other human being, does he recognize the real limit, baptize his self-will in Reality and make it true will, and renew his paradoxical legitimacy. (Buber, 1965b, p. 100) This special inclusive I-You relationship is also unerotic; while Eros is the possibility of choice—and choosing with whom, at some level, to engage—the educator has no such choice, as “…the modern educator finds his pupil there before him” (Buber, 1965b, p. 94). While criticizing the sickness of our age, Buber finds “greatness” in the educator of modern times in this lack of choice and willingness to serve them regardless: He [the teacher] enters the school-room for the first time, he sees them crouching at the desks, indiscriminately flung together, the misshapen and the well-proportioned, animal faces, empty faces, and noble faces in indiscriminate confusion, like the presence of the

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As in the general I-You relationship (c.f., Buber, 1996, p. 62).

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created universe; the glance of the educator accepts and receives them all. (Buber, 1965b, p. 94) While the educator may be seen as great in this exchange, the teacher also learns and benefits from the relationship with the pupil. The educator learns about him- or herself, “…[f]irst that he is limited by otherness, and second that he receives grace by being bound to the other” (Buber, 1965b, p. 101). In this sense, the educator learns about his own depths and limits, because even in this specialized sense, “[r]elation is reciprocity…. Our students teach us, our works form us” (Buber, 1996, p. 67). The teacher also becomes a vehicle for the classroom community to turn to God, for, to Buber, the educator “…seems to me to be a representative of the true God” (Buber, 1965b, p. 94). So, in the final analysis, Buber sees education primarily as a way to prepare a pupil to relate to and gain a sense of responsibility for others as well as their own situations. The teacher provides them with a purposeful selection of the world and with as true an account and embodiment of the traditional cultural and spiritual teachings as he or she can as the curricular content for this process. The educator enters into a specialized inclusive I-You relationship with the pupil, not by grace but by function, and enters into this relationship equally with all pupils. In doing so, the teacher gains a better understanding of him- or herself as well as special responsibility and recognition as “a representative of the true God.” From this point, I will engage the writings of Buber in dialogue around the contemporary educational situation. Engaging Martin Buber in Dialogue for Contemporary Times In summarizing his positions on education, Buber writes: “Then is this the ‘principle’ of education, its normal and fixed maxim? No; it is only the principium of its reality, the beginning of its reality—wherever it begins” (Buber, 1965b, p. 102). Just as the Buddha wishes to teach 16

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the way rather than a view (Buber, 1996, pp. 138-139), Buber lays a path to follow allowing us to engage with our own situations in education. The system of American public education is designed to minimize the influence of religion specifically even as it is deeply—yet tacitly—influenced by a pan-Protestant ethic (Katz, 1987). So, how does one include a Jewish scholar’s work in the discussion around American schooling, especially when he often writes from a particularly Jewish position about Jewish themes, referring specifically to God? The problem I present here is twofold, as suggested by Simon (1999): one, will such a position be heard, and two, would it lose some of its essential Jewishness in the discourse? Simon responds to this problem by channeling Rabbi Hillel, as Buber did (cf., Buber, 1996, p. 85): “A pedagogy of Jewish particularity is unavoidably denominational and public; fundamentally ambivalent, it is not easily practiced. Such is the tenor of our times. If not now, when?” (Simon, 1999, p. 320). Despite his seemingly foreign positions on the nature of education, Buber does not view his philosophy as utopian in nature, instead asserting that the way he presents can be found in the realities of many historical situations, including our own. In responding to an adversarius, a fictitious critic of the dialogic philosophy, Buber replies, “I beg you to notice that I do not demand. I have no call to that and an authority for it. I try only to say that there is something, and to indicate how it is made: I simply record…. It is not that you are to answer but that you are able” (Buber, 1965a, p. 35). As such, a case can be made for looking for and uncovering the dialogue which occurs in the modern classroom, even if it is stifled at almost every turn by the barriers we erect between the I and the You. But Buber does not advocate dismantling the social structures which often get in the way of genuine I-You dialogue. Despite his assertion that education is a purpose to be summoned

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Education in Encounter

only in response to the sickness of our age, Buber notes that we cannot return to a pre-education state: We can as little return to the state of affairs that existed before there were schools as to that which existed before there were schools as to that which existed before say, technical science. But we can and must enter in the completeness of its growth to reality into the perfect humanization of its reality. (Buber, 1965b, p. 90) As such, I will examine a small sample of the current state of education in the light of Buber’s educational philosophy, specifically the challenges of plurality in the American classroom to Buber’s philosophy of education, the challenges of standards and accountability, pupil-pupil educative relationships, and the presence of communications technology in the classroom. The purpose of this exercise is to allow me, a Jewish American educator, to engage with my own situations and develop a way of being to help teach and shape what occurs in the classroom, the environment of exchange between the curriculum, the teacher, and the pupils. Again, to call upon Rabbi Hillel, “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?” While Buber criticizes the concept of bildung in the wake of the French Revolution, asserting that “…‘universal culture,’ arising from the collapse of the real pattern of European civilization, does not constitute a valid goal for education” (1963, pp. 154-155), he does pave the way for a “national humanism.” Such a development is possible if education “…accepts as its authority the supernational norm of its own national movement” (Buber, 1963, p. 155). In a sense, the United States is caught in a similar paradox as Buber’s critique of bildung: as a nation of immigrants, the “typical” American classroom is potentially comprised of pupils (and teachers) descending from a wide variety of traditions, teachings, and spiritual backgrounds. It

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Jeremy F Price

German-Jewish Thinkers

Education in Encounter

does not seem, however, that Americans have identified a single “supernational norm.” To do so somehow seems to violate the spirit of pluralism which tenuously and perhaps ideally exists. However, learning from Buber, it may be well worth engaging in dialogue about a renewed “ideal pattern,” in order to foster “…the change and renewal of the social concept that springs from man’s union with the forces of history and tradition…” (Buber, 1963, p. 155). Buber noted a reliance on information as another symptom of the sickness of the age. Buber describes such a condition in which information is seen as the goal of existence: They have an environment, and they have information about their environment…. They live, and they do not realize what they live. Their experience is ordered without being comprehended. They experience of it what component part it has in common with other experiences, and are oriented. To each of them eternity calls, ‘Be!’ They smile at eternity and answer, ‘I have information.’ (Buber, 1964, p. 75) It is unlikely that Buber could have foreseen the way in which such attitudes have permeated educational institutions. In the era of the No Child Left Behind Act, education is oriented around the meeting of standards and holding schools, teachers, and pupils accountable through a system of quantitatively-scored high-stakes exams (Nichols & Berliner, 2007; Rose, 2007). Although referring to unbridled and exalted freedom, it seems that the following passage can apply to this over-emphasis on standards and accountability: “…the springboard is treated as the goal and a functional goal as substantial good” (Buber, 1965b, pp. 91-92). Buber reminds us of the distinction between the springboard and the goal, and a functional goal and a substantial good; in terms of standards and accountability, the educational system and policy guiding the system has blurred these distinctions. Such reminders are well-placed and important in order to

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Jeremy F Price

German-Jewish Thinkers

Education in Encounter

remind us as to what the purposes of education should not be, while still allowing for such accountability structures to exist in a muted form and less central position. Buber writes a great deal on the special educative relationship between the teacher and the pupil. He is entirely silent on the potential for learning, even when learning is seen through Buber’s sense of forming character, in the dialogue and relationships between pupils, between peers. This gap is a difficult one to fathom, as there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that pupils learn a great deal about meeting the world from each other (e.g., Vygotsky, 1978). This highlights the danger of trying to follow one particular theory too closely—to see it as principle rather than principium—even if it is Buber’s relatively open-ended and inclusive philosophy of dialogue and education. I see this gap as a shortfall in Buber’s approach to education; it is perhaps that the strict form of the specialized inclusive I-You relationship does not hold between pupils, but the more general I-You relationship does. But then one must consider that there is the potential for learning in the general I-You dialogue and relationship. Lastly, I will touch upon technology, as the introduction of Internet-based curricula in the classroom is a steadily increasing trend. Such technologies—e-mail, online discussions, chat, even “virtual” reality—mediate dialogue, a condition which would seem to preclude the possibility for the I-You relationship. It is unlikely that Buber could have predicted the social turn that technology has taken; but in true Buber fashion, if he were alive today, he would likely have engaged with it to understand its possibilities and challenges for dialogue and not ignore it. While it is possible for technology-mediated interactions to annihilate the possibility for the IYou relationship, the encounter mediated by technology may provide further opportunity to engage in an unmediated I-You way. But such an approach requires that the focus remain on the

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Jeremy F Price

German-Jewish Thinkers

Education in Encounter

human relations, and not on the potentialities of the technology per se. Even the Hasidim recognized this subtlety, as related by Buber: ‘You can learn something from everything,’ the rabbi of Sadagora once said to his hasidim. ‘Everything can teach us something, and not only everything God has created. What man has made has also something to teach us.’ ‘What can we learn from a train?” one hasid asked dubiously. ‘That because of one second one can miss everything.’ ‘And from the telegraph?’ ‘That every word is counted and charged.’ ‘And the telephone?’ ‘That what we say here is heard there.’ (Buber, 1991, p. 2:70) If it is possible to be reminded of our humanity by a train, telegraph, and telephone, it is possible also to find the potential for genuine I-You dialogue in education in the Internet Age. In conclusion, Buber engaged with what he saw as the sickness of our age, and saw the important role for education in this engagement. His time and our contemporary time are different in some very substantial ways, in a sense we have sunk even further in to the frozen I-It state with our reliance on information and technology and with our own engagement in collectivism and exaltation of freedom. Yet our ages are also very similar, and we can learn from Buber to engage with one another and with our situations. Buber reminds us that a revolution in education, in which we must overthrow systems, cultures, and structions, is not necessary. Instead, he urges us to remember the truer purposes of education, and to engage in dialogue with each other and with the teachings of the past. Buber teaches us the way, and has set out an important principium; the onus now lies with us to exist and to find the responsibility

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Jeremy F Price

German-Jewish Thinkers

Education in Encounter

for each other that is at the core of Buber’s philosophy of education that renews us in our own historical situation.

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German-Jewish Thinkers References

Education in Encounter

Adkins, V. K. (1999). Buber and the Dialectic of Teaching. Journal of Educational Thought, 33(2), 175-181. Biemann, A. (2002). Introduction. In A. Biemann (Ed.), The Martin Buber Reader (pp. 1-20). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Buber, M. (1958). Paths In Utopia (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). Boston: Beacon. Buber, M. (1963). On National Education. In Israel and the World: Essays in a time of crisis (pp. 149-163). New York: Shocken. Buber, M. (1964). Daniel: Dialogues on Realization (M. Friedman, Trans.). New York: W. W. Norton. Buber, M. (1965a). Dialogue (R. G. Smith, Trans.). In Between Man and Man (pp. 1-39). New York: Macmillan. Buber, M. (1965b). Education (R. G. Smith, Trans.). In Between Man and Man (pp. 83-103). New York: Macmillan Buber, M. (1965c). The Education of Character (R. G. Smith, Trans.). In Between Man and Man (pp. 104-117). New York: Macmillan. Buber, M. (1991). Tales of the Hasidim. New York: Schocken. Buber, M. (1996). I and Thou (W. Kaufmann, Trans.). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. Buber, M. (2002). Teaching and Deed. In A. Biemann (Ed.), The Martin Buber Reader (pp. 234239). New York: Palgrave MacMillan. Carroll, P. S., & Bowman, C. A. (2000). Leaping Fire: Texts and Technology. Contemporary Issues In Technology and Teacher Education, 1(2), 229-235. Friedman, M. (1956). Martin Buber's Philosophy of Education. Educational Theory, 6(2), 95104. Gordon, H. (1973). Would Martin Buber Endorse the Buber Model? Educational Theory, 23(2), 215-223. Gorsky, P., & Caspi, A. (2005). Dialogue: a theoretical framework for distance education instructional systems. British Journal of Educational Technology, 36(2), 137-144. Hawkins, D. (2002). I, Thou, and It. In The Informed Vision: Essays on Learning and Human ature (pp. 51-64). New York: Algora Publishing. The Jerusalem Bible. (1992). Jerusalem: Koren. Katz, M. B. (1987). Reconstructing American Education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Murphy, D. (1988). Martin Buber's Philosophy of Education. Dublin: Irish Academic Press. Nichols, S. L., & Berliner, D. C. (2007). Collateral Damage: How High-stakes Testing Currupts America's Schools. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press. Rose, L. (2007). The sad saga of NCLB. Phi Delta Kappan, 89(1). Schiro, M. S. (2007). Curriculum Theory: Conflicting Visions and Enduring Concerns. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Scudder, J. R. (1968). Freedom With Authority: A Buber Model for Teaching. Educational Theory, 18(2), 133-142. Scudder, J. R. (1988). Criticism and Response Which Evoke Productive Thought. Educational Theory, 38(3), 351-361. Silberstein, L. (1990). Martin Buber's Social and Religious Thought: Alienation and the Quest for Meaning. New York: New York University Press. 23

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Simon, R. I. (1999). Election, Ambivalence, and the Pedagogy of Jewish Particularity. In H. S. Shapiro (Ed.), Strangers in the Land: Pedagogy, Modernity, and Jewish Identity (pp. 309-322). New York: Peter Lang. Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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