Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Truth In Love

In the fourth chapter of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul encouraged them to speak the truth in love.  We usually, and rightly, see this as a statement on method.  The admonishment to speak the truth in love reminds us that the truth can be spoken in ugliness and hatefulness, but that truth spoken in love is more likely to be received.

There is another sense in which this can be taken, one that recognizes the truth that exists and has its foundation in love, and it is this sense that is operative in the conclusion of Samuel Rocha’s A Primer for Philosophy & Education.  After making the distinction between knowing and understanding, Rocha continues by explaining the nature of the difference.  “Understanding is beyond the scope of knowledge because it requires more than knowing, it requires being – being in love.”  (p. 42)

I imagine that for some this will seem a bit of a letdown.  Love is so common, so basic an idea, and we are always on the lookout for the new and exotic.  Coming to the end of the book and finding this may be a little disappointing.  It also does not seem very philosophical.  Isn’t philosophy supposed to be about heady things?  Perhaps he would have done better to have ended the sentence above with “it requires being.”  Ah, yes.  That is suitably abstract.  That has the proper ring of intellectual mystery.

Yet Rocha will have none of that.  His philosophy is no incorporeal, wraithlike proposition.  It is an incarnate thing, and he will not let us off the hook so easily.  He continues, “When we drink from the font of wisdom we are filled with more than wisdom itself:  we acquire understanding. By understanding, we become more than wise philosophers and sage educators.  We become persons; we are personalized.”  (p. 43)

There it is, the heart of this humane enterprise called education.  As I have noted before, the etymology of “education” shows us that it is a work of leading out, presumably, following the illustration of Plato, a leading out of darkness and into light.  “Lead,” however, is a transitive verb, as is ducere in Latin, and it invites us to consider what is its proper direct object.  In the case of education, this can be none other than people, human beings, us.  We are the direct object.  We lead each other on that grand journey of discovery, and what we discover is our humanity.  As Rocha says it, we become persons.  We are personalized.

Whatever else is may be said of us, this much is true.  “Persons fundamentally desire and require love:  to love and be loved.  Without love, there is no understanding.  Without love, there is nothing.”  (p. 43)

This is an idea I have heard before.  When she was inducted into the New Albany High School Hall of Fame, my Latin teacher, Alice Ranck Hettle had this to say.  “It is our responsibility as educators to provide a sound education based on ethical principles.  Innate within every human being is first the desire to be noticed and to be loved, then comes the need to be taught to learn how to learn.  It is the role of the teacher to notice and yes, to love the student so much that he is ready to learn, and in turn develop all of his potential.  What better way for a teen-ager to learn to live honorably and well than to read from the literary masterpieces of Cicero.”

Clearly Rocha and Miss Ranck (the name by which I will always know one of the true inspirations in my professional life) mean more here than kind affection.  This rich, robust love without which nothing exists cannot be described in the few paragraphs of a blog.  Quite likely, it cannot be described with words at all.  It can be glimpsed, and while we cannot embrace so vast and deep an entity, we can be embraced by it and in the true freedom of its limitless space we can come to know, to understand, and finally to be.  For those wrestling with the educational challenges of our day, this should bring profound hope.

“This is where philosophy and education end and life begins:  in love.  This is also where philosophy and education begin anew.”  (p. 44)

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