“The Lab, the Temple and the Market”

Chapter 4: “Promoting a Discourse on Science, Religion, and Development.”

SECTION:  The Education of Children and Youth

From the beginning, enhancing the ability of the world's governments to impart education to their citizens has been a major component of development strategy. Initially, the emphasis was largely on infrastructure, but, over the years, other matters related to curriculum, administration, educational technology, teacher training, and even the relationship between the school and the community were also addressed. It must be acknowledged that enormous progress has been made in these interrelated areas of endeavour, particularly in the context of the universalization of primary education. Yet, there is a widespread feeling that despite these impressive accomplishments, education is not living up to its promises, indeed that educational systems everywhere are in crisis.

A thorough analysis of the ills afflicting modern education lies beyond the scope of this paper. But one point needs to be briefly discussed so that the line of reasoning being followed here can be made clear. Apart from a relatively small number of fortunate students attending exceptional schools, the majority of the world's children and youth today receive an increasingly superficial education that systematizes the fragmentation of the students' minds, advancing thereby the fragmentation of society. The solution to the problem cannot be sought in simply better management of the parameters and relationships that define the school, improvement of teaching-learning dynamics in and outside the classroom, application of the latest technology, or elaboration of a stream of documents that define an impressive set of objectives for every course and every area of study. These measures are important in themselves and certainly create the image of a progressive movement ever engaged in educational reform in country after country.  The roots of the crisis gripping education, however, are to be found in the way knowledge is perceived and treated in many educational systems.

In most schools, curricula are organized by subject matters. Although more advanced approaches allow for educational activities that try to integrate two or three subjects, the choice of the content of every course is made within a framework that divides knowledge into distinct and disconnected components. Division into disciplines is seen as virtually inherent to knowledge itself, which is defined in terms of its fragments-as the sum of all the disciplines in natural and social sciences, arts and humanities, and professional fields such as engineering and medicine. Year after year, the student accumulates knowledge in separate categories without becoming aware of the essential relationships that unite the parts, without perhaps even getting a glimpse of the underlying interconnectedness of social existence much less of the material universe.

The problem is exacerbated by the emphasis that is placed on the assimilation of facts rather than on the understanding of profound concepts. Rote learning is categorically condemned, but is blandly replaced by the mastery of techniques to manipulate information. Even the attractive pedagogy of learning by doing becomes distorted by an exaggerated attitude of play. Nowhere is this more apparent than in so called "modern" approaches to science-education where, in the name of individual discovery, tinkering is presented as the essence of scientific inquiry, and appreciation of the complex structure of science as an evolving body of knowledge receives little attention. Morality, if addressed at all, is treated as another fragment, another discrete subject matter. [expand this]  The notion of service to humanity is minimally present and the fostering of a spiritual consciousness is almost entirely ignored. A dichotomy between theory and action results in a tendency to teach practical and manual skills to some and book-learning to others, the ability to participate in planning and decision making to the few and to carry out orders to the majority. And in those infrequent circumstances when learning to think is given priority, the analytical method is essentially assumed to fill the requirements. The result is sharp-minded individuals who can focus increasingly on more and more minute parts of reality, to the point of being incapable of seeing larger, particularly historical, contexts. [my bold] Not surprisingly, as such individuals rise to positions of leadership, they are prone to making judgements without awareness of the moral and ethical implications involved. They are capable of denying to themselves the noblest of human sentiments in the name of the "bottom line" and expediency. Only now does the havoc that such polished and ostensibly educated minds, with alarmingly narrow ranges of understanding, have wrought in both our physical and social environment begin to be recognized.

 Today, the task of expanding the coverage provided by education fortunately enjoys general and enthusiastic support. If the foregoing assessment of education's plight is at all plausible, however, the reformation of the educational system must have the highest priority in the development plans of our typical region. Here again, in an approach where learning is at the heart of all efforts to transform society, the university must play a preponderant role in fostering a proper educational process among the population it serves. By its very nature the university is concerned with education at higher levels. What is required of it in the context of so specific a dimension of capacity building is a concerted effort to develop systematically the contents and methods of three programmes of education: preschool, basic education for children from the age of six to 14, and high school focusing on the intellectual and moral development of 15 to 18-year-old youth.

 The university's greatest challenge in this respect is how to harness relevant knowledge to the creation of pedagogically sound programmes that respond to the exigencies of each stage of the intellectual and emotional development of the students.  In an era of accelerated scientific and technological progress, no one will deny the need for specialization and high expertise in narrow fields of human endeavour. But before specialized training takes place-whether in a trade or profession, or in research and development-the basic structure of the mind of the student has surely to be addressed. [Bateson?] Most of today's textbooks seem to assume that every student is being prepared to specialize in the specific subjects with which they are dealing. The result is neither sound intellectual development nor a reasonable knowledge of one discipline or another. The concern commonly expressed by universities everywhere about the quality of education the majority of their entering students have received is an indication of the seriousness of the problem.

 The situation calls for a fresh look at the universe of knowledge and for a new way to bring together its diverse elements in curricula that respect the wholeness of knowledge yet anticipate specialization at a later stage. The focus of each set of interrelated educational activities should be the development of one or more capabilities-scientific, artistic, technical, social, moral and spiritual-endowing the individual with the understanding of concepts, knowledge of facts, mastery of methods, as well as the skills, attitudes and qualities he or she needs to lead a fruitful life. Specifically, in this age of transition, it is imperative to endow youth with a twofold moral purpose: to take charge of their own intellectual and spiritual growth and to make significant contributions to the transformation of society.

 The claim being advanced here, one for which I have ample evidence, is that an educational process organized around the development of a set of carefully selected capabilities can impart far more "knowledge" to children and youth than programmes concerned with covering the usual array of skills and subject matters. Cultivating such capabilities makes special demands at each of the three stages of the pedagogical enterprise. Preschool needs to emphasize the building of character. It should pay attention to the emotional make up of each child and help with the acquisition of the spiritual qualities that will finally shape the attitudes and outlooks of the future youth. It must teach joy and freedom by instilling self-discipline and laying the foundations of a lasting moral structure. It needs to foster habits of investigation and reflection, and encourage the early manifestations of clear thinking and eloquent speech. Such objectives are entirely harmonious with the development of the various types of dexterity and powers of perception that have tended to preoccupy so many preschool programmes earnestly being propagated internationally.

 Whatever one's definition of basic education, an appropriate level of proficiency in such areas of knowledge as mathematics, the natural sciences, history and geography, language and literature is clearly an important element.. But the approach advocated here would allow educational systems to go far beyond today's rather modest goals.  After some eight years of attending school, we must ask, what attributes are needed by a 14-year-old adolescent that will enable him or her to make a clear-cut transition from childhood to youth?

We can readily identify a few that are especially helpful in exposing the nature of the education being called for: the realization that it is chiefly service to humanity and dedication to the unification of humankind that release creative powers latent in one's nature; the understanding that not only knowledge of principles but the exercise and application of will are essential to both personal growth and social change; a conviction that honour and happiness lie not in the pursuit of wealth and power for their own sake, but in self-respect and noble purposes, in integrity and moral quality; and a disposition to analyse and a desire to understand the features of different forms of government, law, and public administration. To these must be added other attributes that enhance social effectiveness: an adequate understanding, at least in the local context, of the concerns of programmes of social progress in such areas as health and sanitation, agriculture, crafts, and industry; some development of the power of intellectual investigation as an instrument of successful individual and collective action; certain ability to analyse social conditions and discover the forces that have caused them; the corresponding ability to express ideas and to contribute to consultation on community problems; the capacity to take part in community action as a determined yet humble participant who helps overcome conflict and division and contributes to the establishment of a spirit of unity and collaboration; and a reasonable degree of excellence in at least one productive skill through which one can experience the truth that work is worship when performed in a spirit of service.

These are admittedly demanding objectives for the eight years of basic education. But a good beginning can be made in every one of these directions. High school, then, must assume the responsibility of ensuring that such capabilities-concerned with both the acquisition of knowledge and the qualities of the mind and spirit-develop to the point that each man and woman can go on to play a fulfilling role in the life of the human race. This is not to imply, however, that the high-school programme should be a mere continuation of basic education. On the contrary, the transition calls for is a qualitative change, particularly in terms of the scientific rigour, the use of language, and the social content. For, it is in this stage of education that vague hopes and ideals regarding one's future and service to humanity must crystallize into the twofold moral purpose mentioned above. The student must now become a purposeful agent in charge of his or her own education. Every effort needs to be made to raise the student's consciousness to a higher level-a consciousness of the ramifications of personal choices being made, of the social forces to which one's community is subjected, and of the nature of the historical processes in which one is immersed. 

There is no doubt that the design and implementation of these three programmes present a daunting challenge both to the university and to the school system in any region.  It can only be met if a global development enterprise is willing to come to the aid of every population and ensure the availability of creative imagination and the needed financial and human resources. For this to happen, it is imperative that we learn from the experience of nearly five decades. New generations have to be empowered-as opposed to being simply instructed-if development is to offer more than superficial solutions to ever-occurring social and economic crises.

   Harper, Sharon (editor) The Lab, the Temple, and the Market: Reflections at the Intersection of Science, Religion, and Development.  Bloomfield, CT:  IDRC via Kumarian Press, Inc., 2001 

Here is an outline or Table of Contents (the first link):


Chapter 1. The Principle of Fundamental OnenessPromilla Kapur 
The Context; Hinduism: The Backdrop; Self, Society, and Development; Modern Science and the Hindu Religion; Devotion, Knowledge, and Action; Conclusion: An Integrated Paradigm; Annex: Selected Ethical Principles of Hinduism-inspired Movements for Development

Chapter 2. Solidarity with the PoorGregory Baum 
Catholic Idea of Development; The World Bank's New Interest in Religion; The Subjective Dimension of Social Science Research; Annex: Excerpts from Papal Encyclicals and Statements by the Synod of Bishops in Relation to Development

Chapter 3. Rediscovering the Resources of ReligionAzizan Baharuddin 
Introduction; Science; Development; Religion; Islam; Conclusion; Annex: Islamic Scholars and Organizations involved in Science, Religion, and Development

Chapter 4. Promoting a Discourse on Science, Religion, and DevelopmentFarzam Arbab 
On Personal Experience; Faith and Reason; Spiritual Principles and the Role of Knowledge;
Capacity Building

Afterword: Our Way of ProceedingWilliam Ryan, S.J.