Reflecting on Education and the formation of a Just Society (Part II)

In a fiery speech to an auditorium full of students a few weeks ago, Professor Cornel West warns them here saying:

“…Don’t get caught to make big, big, big money and find yourself in a condition of spiritual malnutrition and moral constipation- when you know that what is right is just stuck in too much greed and it won’t come out! Don’t get locked into that truncated apathy, that truncated imagination. Historically, young people have played a disproportionate role in democratic awakening and if we don’t awaken now, we are sliding down a slippery slope into not just chaos but social strife…”

His is a passionate concern about a generation’s “soul” being diverted by “weapons of mass distraction” (of modern materialistic culture) leading to moral and ethical abdication.  In his critique of John Rawl’s version of liberalism, Harvard Professor Michael Sandel noted here  in references to his book Liberalism and Limited Justice that:

“Contemporary liberalism didn’t take adequate account of the role of moral and spiritual questions in political life and conceived the individual too narrowly, as not sufficiently bound up with claims of community and history and tradition.”

Sandel’s insights might also explain why our education systems appear to be buying into (or maybe more accurately are being bought by!) “too narrow” a conception of education. It does seem that we are significantly at risk of being driven by a success-oriented ($$’s) pragmatism which undermines or distracts civil society from rigorous ethical enactment.

Christian Aid has just published a report called “Mapping Future Trends in Global economic and Political Power” and in it they note the projected increase in significance of the role played by civic society in influencing policy and public morality. The report notes that:-

“Civil society actors must recognise that despite increasing complexity there will be new opportunities for civil society to shape the agendas of business and governments in significant and unexpected ways through coordinated advocacy, presenting alternative visions to the norm and speaking with moral authority on issues of injustice.”

The importance of educating  for moral integrity and social reform is urgent it seems to me, at a time in history when paradigms of “success” which have shaped the modern era have been revealed as having exploitative and immoral consequences.

Cornel West notes in his book The American Evasion of Philosophy a contrast to a paradigm of success-driven pragmatism:

“Prophetic pragmatism is located in the Christian tradition for two basic reasons. First, on the existential level, the self-understanding and self-identity that flow from this tradition’s insights into the crisis and traumas of life are indispensable for me to remain sane. It holds at bay the sheer absurdity so evident in life, without erasing or eliding the tragedy of life. like Kierkegaard, whose reflections on Christian faith were so profound yet often so frustrating, I do not think it is possible to put forward rational defences of one’s faith that verify its veracity or even persuade one’s critics. Yet, it is possible to convey to others the sense of deep emptiness and pervasive meaningless one feels if one is not critically aligned with an enabling tradition. One risks not logical inconsistency but actual insanity, the issue is not reason and irrationality but life or death.” (West, 1989)

What say you?

Carol Kingston-Smith

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