There has been very little study or discussion of the essence of education in recent decades. This trend can be seen in the academy, in teacher seminaries and throughout the entire education system. Despite the plentitude of voices in the field of education, most publications focus on important elements of education: disciplines, didactics, classroom management, educational leadership, special education, prevention programs, etc. However, the essence of education, the very experience of the educational process and its ultimate goals are rarely addressed in the professional literature.
Our intent is to “restore past glory” and reexamine the essence and spirit of education, the ground on which its fundamentals stand, or to use a different metaphor, its central axis, from which these fundamentals are derived and toward which they point, or its highest, spiritual sphere. This compilation of essays is intended, therefore, to affect public and educational discourse and to bring it back to the core issues of education: its highest aspirations, its ultimate purpose, its guiding vision.
With these words, which express the rationale for and the intention behind this project, we initially approached the authors of this book’s essays. We would like to add that while we hope that the book will contribute to teacher education, it is also meant for anyone who cares and is concerned about the nature and quality of education.
With purposeful intention we sought out the contributors to this book from a variety of professional circles: lecturers and researchers from higher education institutions, including colleges of education, and leaders and inspirational teachers from the education system. Thus we were able to compile a wide variety of essays, representing different perspectives and areas of expertise, and enrich our discussion of the essence and purpose of education. Our wish was fulfilled in abundance.
Preparing the book provided us – and we’d venture to say, many of its contributors – with a significant and rewarding experience. Many of the contributors are veterans and renowned authorities in the field of education, and have authored numerous publications. Nevertheless, when asked to focus on the very essence of education, to confront the question “what is Education?”, many of them were perplexed and even somewhat distressed. Instinctively, they tended to seek refuge in their particular niche, expound on their areas of expertise, or submit a review of previous publications. Gradually, however, they aligned themselves with our request and rose to the challenge.
The sense of perplexity that the authors expressed at the beginning of the process is an indication of the clear and present need to deal with the book’s topic – the heart and soul of education. To ignore or sidestep the issue would be tantamount to depriving education of its compass. It is no wonder then that we insisted, indeed implored these venerable scholars and educators, to dedicate their efforts towards a primordial contemplation of this question. While at first glance the answers may seem simple and self-evident, anyone seriously considering the question soon realizes that it requires deep and committed intellectual and emotional engagement.
Aware of the magnitude of this challenge on the one hand, and of the power of dialogue on the other, we established a principle in our work: rather than relying solely on emails and phone calls to communicate with the authors, we opted to have extensive, face-to-face meetings with each of them. On several occasions we held a second meeting for in‑depth discussions of their manuscripts. These dialogues were rich, productive, and of educational value in and of themselves. They featured philosophical reflection, argumentation, sharing of personal experiences, questions, and debates. Emotional and intellectual intimacy was forged; old friendships were revisited and new ones formed. Well before the manuscripts made their way to the publisher, we had been granted the great privilege of meeting and befriending the contributing authors.
The cooperation between us, the two editors, merits consideration as well. We are both native Israelis and belong to the same cultural and social milieu, yet the age gap between us is of a generation. Our biographies and the paths we took in the course of our lives are as different as they could be, and each of us has his own well-founded world view, formulated through different life experiences.
We met in 2009, and found interest in each other’s views and perceptions. This led to further meetings and correspondences, and we soon discovered that, despite differences in some of our fundamental views, our overall orientation was similar. In May of 2009 we embarked on a joint project, and along with other educators and academics we founded the Education Spirit Movement. In the Movement’s Mission Statement, after much discussion and deliberation, we included the following:
Our purpose is for the essence of humanity, the search for meaning and purpose and the aspiration to grow and develop mentally, morally and spiritually, to be a natural part of the cultural and educational environment, and of the hearts, minds and lives of teachers and students in Israel.
The spiritual dimension in education is inclusive and inviting: it includes transcendence, wholeness, sensitivity and depth of experience, selfhood and self-knowledge, consciousness, the search for meaning and purpose, authenticity, humanness, affinity to the sublime and the sacred, and so on. The common denominator in all these can be found in a concept of education that aims at and touches on the highest human sphere, humanity’s noblest aspirations, and which questions the purpose of human existence, as an individual, as part of society and in the grand scheme of creation.
The spiritual dimension is an integral part of culture. It exists and functions within a particular culture, and from that culture it selects contents, values and symbols, which contribute to and empower the human element and encourage individuals to find the sublime and the sacred, in themselves and in creation. And while spirituality may draw contents from a particular culture, it is open to other cultures and wishes to be in dialogue with them, especially with their spiritual sphere.
Our movement has garnered some achievements, about which one may be informed through the Movement’s website. Undoubtedly, there are signs indicating that the Movement’s initial impetus, to affect the nature of the discourse on Education, has begun to take root. The reason we mention the Movement here is because our philosophical, educational and organizational activities within its framework served as a significant and inspirational factor, providing both the momentum for this project and the encouragement we needed to bring our efforts to fruition.
One might suggest that either one of us could have been the sole editor of such a book; this may be true of such a book – but not of this book. We believe that the fact that each of us brought his distinct perspective and approach to this project helped hone our vision and our shared insights and led to better decisions, both specific and general, about the nature of this book. In this sense, it is our genuine hope that the book transcends the boundaries of the professional field of education (although we would consider success on this level alone a worthwhile feat) to offer a humble serving of original, philosophical and spiritual creativity.
In some compilations of essays, the editors decide on sections, and each author is asked to write an essay suitable to a specific, predefined section. We chose a different route, and approached each of the authors with exactly the same request. While we fully expected to find multiple perceptions of the heart and soul of education, we deliberately avoided outlining possible directions, even to ourselves. Only after we received the essays and read through them carefully were we able to identify a few basic approaches, and these served to sort the topics and define the book’s sections. Thus, the essays grouped in a single section offer a similar view of the essence of education.
Nonetheless, our method of assigning an essay to a particular section was more intuitive than scientific, and the reader may find that an essay that we assigned to a particular section could just as well have been placed with a different group of essays. Although we asked the authors to focus on the very core of education, it was clear that in this field it would be impossible to adhere to this request completely. For many, the core of education is perceived as complex and multi-dimensional, and perhaps rightly so. In any event, our intention in grouping the essays in sections was to help the reader discern certain patterns and trends, meta-approaches within the rich tapestry of essays collected here.
Section One: Search Essays in this section describe education as a voyage of exploration or a search for direction and a compass, for the meaning of existence and for transcendence.
Section Two: Occurrence In this section we gathered essays that consider the educational occurrence itself, that is, the very encounter between the educator and the pupil, or between the educator and him- or herself, as the essence of education. Terms typically mentioned in this section include emergence, development, dynamic process, experience, growth, paradox, wonderment, inquisitiveness, creation, sharing, belonging, the learning space, inter-personal dynamics and dialog.
Section Three: Selfhood Common terms used in this section are love, dignity, self-realization, independence, autonomy, democracy, critical thinking, creativity, meaning and significance, freedom of choice, authenticity, individuality.
Section Four: Values The essays in this section discuss values and the process of instilling values, as well as systems of predefined social, humanist, and moral values and ideologies, gender and national identities, and the distinction between education aimed at preserving social norms vs. education aimed at social reform.
Section Five: Spirituality Essays in this section touch on issues such as existentialism, transcendence, peak experiences, mysticism, sacredness, mystery, and the unity of man and creation.
Section Six: Overview The three essays in this section explore the very attempt to identify the essence of education, and offer an outline of possible directions and terms from historical, philosophical and “poetic” perspectives.
In the process of editing this book we were guided by a metaphor: just as a prism divides light into its constituent colors – the colors of the rainbow – so the sections we identified can be seen as divisions of a single concept – the essence of education. What is the essence of education? The answer may forever remain hidden from view, or it may be an ideal that perpetually eludes us. Regardless, we will continue to pursue it, aim towards it and strive to approach it, encountering along the way the full spectrum of its possible renditions.
Yeshayahu Tadmor and Amir Freimann
Contributors (in alphabetical order)
Abed Elhalim Rehab, Abinun Yossef, Abu-Baker Khawla, Alexander Hanan, Aloni Nimrod, Back Shlomo, Bar Shalom Yehuda, Barnea Aryeh, Birkhahn Talya, Copti Mary, Freimann Amir, Goldshmidt Gilad, Gross Zeahvit, Gur-Zeev Ilan, Harpaz Yoram, Inbar Edna, Kibbutz Neot Smadar, Kosman Admiel, Lasry Dani, Levin Tamar, Majar Shabtai, Maliniak Zohar, Margolin Ron, Marhaim Tsipi, Mayseless Ofra, Michaeli Nir, Mishol Agi, Persico Tomer, Raichel Nirit, Rothenberg Naftali, Shore Eliezer, Sroka Naomi, Tikochinski Shlomo, Tsur Muki, Ullman-Margalit Edna, Tadmor Yeshayahu, Zinger Dov