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Balance Between Aesthetics, Science and Ethics in Education

The most relevant and controversial issue facing the university is one of its raisons d’être: formation, the teaching-learning process. The English word ‘formation’ – among other meanings – indicates ‘the act or process of forming’ or ‘the shaping or developing of something’. The word ‘formative’ means ‘having influence in forming or developing’. Similarly, I use the term ‘formation or formative education’ to describe a kind of education which forms or develops a person’s character, values and morals as well as merely making him/her knowledgeable or giving him/her skills.

A distinction between teaching, training or instructing and formation or formative education should be made. To instruct is a process whereby teaching in the sense of training remains on an intellectual or cognitive low level and formation is a process of academic socialization which inserts itself into the personality and the emotional domain, manifesting itself in the subject’s behavior. Therefore, formation and instruction are indivisible and interactive elements in the process of education.The challenge posed by the diversity of knowledge, the plurality of science, the multiplication of branches of knowledge and the speed of change has underscored a problem of academic and curricular effectiveness.

On the one hand, in so far as knowledge has become more complex, varied and impossible to embrace in its entirety, it has become correspondingly more difficult to impart. In addition, the segmentation of fields of knowledge has led to the fragmentation of language, producing a generation of professional people incapable of communicating between one branch of knowledge and another and, increasingly, between the cultures of science and the humanities. The controversy between general formative education and specialized formative education, between professionalization and the liberal study of the arts and sciences, between once-and-for-all learning and an lifelong learning process are subjects for debate within the university community and society.

However, the interdisciplinary/transdisciplinary approach, general basic formation and training, flexibility of the curriculum permitting adaptation to change, the extension of the university mission to cover formative education are all trends which have been gaining prevalence in recent years and which run counter to the other view which favors professionalization as direct training in a single discipline. The risk of specialized professionalization is very great. After all, this model has been very much in vogue since the incorporation of industrial production systems and the development oriented political and economic systems of the fifties and sixties. The result is not particularly edifying. Never before in contemporary history have there been more unemployed university graduates and professional people than there are today. Unemployment among university graduates is not only the responsibility of the socio-economic system, it is the result of the interaction of that system in evolution with a university which produces rigid, passive professionals educated on a once-and-for-all basis.

A more adequate balance between generalization and specialization would reduce the under-exploitation of professionals in the short-term labor market on the one hand, whilst, at the same time, promoting the updating of professional qualifications in keeping with the new demands of society in the medium term. The false dichotomy between formative education in the sciences and the arts requires a radical change in teaching and learning strategies. The university will have to strike the right balance of aesthetics, science and ethics in the education of men and women, so that they will emerge knowing a lot about their own field but also enough about other disciplines: in other words, the university as a center of aesthetics, science and basic human values. But even if the extremes of educational models were drawn towards the center, this would not resolve the whole problem. To do this, the university would have to become an institution oriented towards permanent education and lifelong learning, which, in turn, would require course contents, teaching methods, practices, means and the duration of courses to be kept under constant review.

©2012 Miguel Angel Escotet. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint with appropriate citing.

Quotes on Education

Only the educated are free --Epictetus

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Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.

Bertrand Russell

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