Monday, September 2, 2013

New President Interview -- Part 21 Living Bridges

Living Bridges

Q: I just read your new book, Living Bridges, on the philosophy of education. How did the book get that title?

The title has two sources. At a recent lecture in I heard Steven Weil talk about a bridge between the past and the present. This seems to add support to the idea that teachers are living bridges. Teachers connect the neophytes to the wisdom of the past. In 1970 I heard a lecture by Alexander Dushkin. He was already retired and at my tender age he looked so old. He was older than my grandparents. I don’t remember much about the lecture, but everyone who did know Dr. Dushkin said he was one of the great leaders of the field of education. He died in 1976 shortly after publishing his memoirs titled, Living Bridges.[fn 1]  Thus I gave the same title to my book. I didn’t discover until after I graduated college home much Dushkin had influenced my training. Dushkin studied with John Dewey at Teachers College; we learned the thought of John Dewey through his writings. We learned the thought of Mordecai Kaplan; Dushkin learned with Mordecai Kaplan. Dewey taught his students how to think by discussing his philosophical ideas out loud in front of the class. We learned with this methodology.

Q: Where did Dushkin study for his doctorate?

Dr. Dushkin was one of “Benderly’s Boys” That is Samuel Benderly, who hand--picked promising
educational leaders and sent them to learn in graduate programs at Teachers College in New York City. Dushkin learned both the pragmatic and the romantic (or touchy-feely) part of educational theory. An example of the pragmatic – John eats tilapia because it is lunchtime and he is hungry. The romantic thinking is: Jacob eats tilapia because he believes in eating fish.

William H. Kilpatrick taught students about the science of education that is measuring results which lead to testing and statistical analysis. The current testing and measurement requirements of assessment can be traced to the ideas of Kilpatrick.

Upon graduation from the PhD program in 1917 he was given the honor of delivering the main address at the National Education Association of American (NEA). [fn 2] In the address he outlined his thoughts on supplemental religious and ethic education. He spoke of America as a “fruitful river” rather than a “melting pot.” We are trying to figure out how to leave the “melting pot” theory of society and come up with a more viable diversity theory of American society.

Q: What is the purpose behind a philosophy of anything? Why is a philosophy of education needed?

Organizations have mission statements to verbalize what they hope to accomplish. Mission statements are short. Philosophies give framework for the raison d'être. This framework gives a sense of duty and purpose to all the activities of an organization. The philosophy is based on the premise we are teaching children (and others) to be part of our society and productive members of our communities. We all live in multiple communities be they ethnic, religious, professional, geographic or other subset of the whole.

The basic principles of the philosophy of education are:

    1) Educators are the bridges connecting the past to the future. The present happens because of ideas and people who built our past. The future depends of how we teach the students today. At any given moment a person may be a teacher or a student. Professional teachers [fn 3] learn from their students just as teachers, the masters of the tradition try to pass on that tradition to neophyte student. No one has a monopoly on the truth.

     2) You can’t change the laws of nature. If you are believers in the God who created universe, God created order out of chaos, set the world into existence, and created humanity to master the world (i.e. continue the work of creation). If you are not a believer, then the Summum bonum [fn 4] (the highest good) is the order of the universe. It is our task in life to understand how the universe works so that we can act in concert with the world and not in conflict. The natural order of the universe is present in the physical, biological, social, and human sciences just as it occurs in the arts.

God created the order in the universe, but gave teachers to task to shape the human spirit and psyche. You can’t change your innate gifts, but you need to have excellent educational opportunities to find the best possible path to success. Teachers lead students on the right paths.

A creator has certain rights over their creation. Just as the artist, author, or other creators have control of the fruits of their labor, the ultimate creator of the world (or Mother Nature) has certain controls on the world. You can’t avoid death, but you can choose to lead a life that maximizes the chance of a long and healthy life. You can’t prevent a rainy day, but you can take precautions or use protection.

Understanding the laws of nature also means that we are bound by the limitations. We have a respect for all of creation and we have the job to develop our intellectual, physical and artistic gifts.

     3) There is value to our society, our groups, and the individual to pass on the tradition [fn 5] of the past. Tradition is important as a basis for understanding the present, but tradition does not veto the future. Just because something has been done in the past does not make a valid reason to do it now. There is value to analysis and critical thinking so that new ideas and thoughts may be synthesized. The process of adding value to past knowledge is the way we learn not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

    4) Schools, colleges, universities, etc. are learning intuitions and should not only transmit the tradition but set good examples for the use of that knowledge in our institutions.

Q: Some of these ideas are similar universal themes of the Jewish New Year.

Rosh HaShanah (the new year) is a universal holiday. It is anniversary of the creation of humanity. There are three aspects [fn 6] of the holiday that directly relate to education 1) Acceptance of the understanding the majesty of the rules and law of the natural universe; 2) Remembrance of the past; and 3) The calling out or publicizing of first two aspects. The New Year is time when the world is judged.

Q: How do critical thinking skills fit into the philosophy of education?

From the first time children start learning through all of their education, critical thinking skills are supposed to be honed and developed according to their age and maturity. Along with the skills of analysis children mature and are able to synthesize new knowledge. Everyone is a work in progress. To become the greatest person one can be, teachers, parents, and others on the educational team, must work in concert with each other and the limitation of the universe. One needs to learn how to give and take criticism. For example it you look in a mirror and see a spot of dirt on your face, you clean your face. If someone tells you something is wrong, work on the solution. Of course the person offering the help must do it in a manner that will build up the person not tear them down.

Creators of the organization set the stage for future generations. Their ideas were translated into rules and procedures. As time and circumstances change so must the rules, context and procedures. The past ideas should not have a veto on progress

Q: How does a learning organization continue to learn?

Learning is a change in behavior. That means one should learn from the past and not repeat the mistakes. If something has not worked before, the mistakes should not be repeated. Learning from the past is not limited to the classroom; the institution must constantly evolve to serve their publics.

To be continued …

Q: Thank you very much.


* Part twenty-one of imaginary interviews with the president of the College. After 20 interviews the president is no longer “new,” but since we are all works in progress I am continuing the series as if s/he were a “new president.” Please feel free to suggest new ideas for interviews and presidential comments. This article is for your information, amusement, and edification. Any connection to a real college president is strictly coincidental.


1. Dushkin, Alexander M. Living bridges: memoirs of an educator. Jerusalem, Keter Publishing, [c1975]. Also see the review of the book. "He was a living bridge" [review of] Living Bridges, by Alexander Dushkin. In: Jewish Education, Fall 1977.

2. Ibid. p. 16

3. We are all teachers. Parents teach their children, children teach their parents and when they reach the limit of their abilities, parents send their children to the expert teachers who continue the educational process. Autodidacts are those who learn on their own without the face-to-face or other personal contact with a teacher. Even autodidacts learn from the recorded knowledge of teachers. A written or recorded work makes the author a teacher.

4. This concept is from the Greek philosophy of Aristotle and Plato.

5. When I use the word “tradition” in this context I mean the sum total of human knowledge. I am not referring to the ritual traditions of doing one action over another. The Hebrew word, masoret, which is translated as “tradition” comes from the root meaning to pass, or transmit. I do not use the word “tradition” to mean ritualized behavior. By learning the tradition one can better understand the present.

6. The Hebrew terms are machuyot (majesty), zichronot (remembrance), and shofrot (shouting). These sections are parts of the special prayers of the day that are not part of the rest of the year liturgy.

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