Sunday, July 27, 2008


1. The Basis
My "jo-credo", both the educational and the general, consists mainly in these two trivial ideas: first, that all people – thus also all human knowledge and actions – are fallible and otherwise imperfect; and, secondly, that this takes nothing away from our dignity as human beings, or from ability to lead a meaningful life, or from our capacity for rationally seeking knowledge and for responsibly trying to improve our situation. My main interest is, given our fallibility, how is it possible to still lead a meaningful and a dignified life, and seek knowledge and try to improve our situation as said? The answer to which I subscribe is that this can be done via addressing problems that capture our hearts, by trial and error, and by openly acknowledging our doubts, our fallibility, our ignorance and our constant need for criticism and dissent.
2. The open/critical approach
These ideas, to repeat, are trivial. My peculiarity – if any – is in that I take them to their practical consequences: I view, as the bulk of my work, as writer (or a researcher) as well as teacher, the study of interesting and important disputes, together with their backgrounds, attempting to partake in the debates that surround them, and inviting others to partake with me, to dispute and to criticize me as best they can. I have found that this approach is most fruitful as far as learning is concerned, and that it has a distinctive enhancive effect on friendship, mutual respect, and peaceful collaboration amongst people. It has neither copyright nor, even, a single title to refer to it by. It is referred to, at times, as the problem approach, at other times as the critical approach, or the critical-rationalist approach, at yet other as the workshop approach, the dialectical debate, the open-ended approach, or even the open approach, for short.
3. The Pioneers
The leading pioneers in applying the open approach to education in the 20th century are Homer Lane (A. S. Neill's teacher) and Janusz Korczak. The leading pioneer in my view in applying it to writing is Bertrand Russell. The thinker who articulated said approach and located it on the philosophical map was the English philosopher of Jewish-Austrian descent, Sir Karl R. Popper, who attributed it to the Pre-Socratics and to Socrates himself, as well as to a handful of other thinkers throughout the ages, and who asserted that this approach is the crux of all that is good in democracy as well as in science. The leading representative of said approach (indeed, one of its very few representatives) in Israel, and possibly its chief representative in the world, is Popper's disciple, the philosopher Joseph Agassi, whom I had the fortune to have as my own teacher.
4. The features of the open/critical approach
The central features of the open/critical approach are the fondness of dispute and of the pluralistic debate, the absence of the ambition to win, respect for others, care for agenda and for protocol, tolerance towards – indeed, welcoming of – criticism and dissent, the courage to try and err, and the embracement of fair play: in brief, the sportive spirit. The approach demands no more than intellectual honesty, clarity and simplicity of expression, and the willingness to try autonomous and courageous thinking. Those who subscribe to it tend to use phrases such as "I don't know", "my mistake", "please correct me", "am I mistaken?", "thank you for showing me my mistake (or for your criticism)", "I did not think of this", "let us dwell on this together" and so on. Teachers who subscribe to said approach encourage their students to do the same, as well as to independently choose the problems they wish to pursue, and to risk suggesting unpopular ideas and to invite as well as offer criticism. Some suggest that the crispiest expression of the open/critical approach is Popper's assertion "you may be right and I may be wrong, and with a little effort we may get nearer to the truth". Another appropriate expression can be found much earlier already in the teaching of Socrates who taught that the aim of the dialectical debate was not to win but to lose, i.e., to get my interlocutor to point out my mistakes to me, since this is how we learn.
5. Our educational systems
Since I have first embraced the critical approach I have been writing, studying and teaching in its light, and encouraging my students to choose the problems they wish to pursue, to make suggestions to the agenda, to try and to err, to put forth unorthodox views, to invite criticism and to offer it to others (including myself), and to be autonomous. My experience has lead me to the view that the adversity of our educational systems to doubt, to controversy, to criticism, to the to the autonomy of the individual and to democracy – along with the philosophies that support, express, beautify or conceal said aversion – is the root of the trouble in education, and one of the greatest evils that afflict humanity at large and that, therefore, the democratization of education is the order of the hour. Democracy, to be sure, is full of flaws: yet it is still the only platform on which we can try and err, and discuss openly and critically the problems on our agenda, without fear of punishment or coercion. It is, as I like to put it, the institutionalization of the benefits of doubt. This perspective explains the greatest advantages of democracy. Therefore it is lamentable that the awareness of it is so rare, including amongst the friends of democracy themselves. I elaborate on this in my forthcoming book, to be published in Rodopi Publishing House, Series in the philosophy of Karl R. Popper and Critical Rationalism, titled: CLOSED EDUCATION IN THE OPEN SOCIETY: KIBBUTZ EDUCATION AS A CASE STUDY
6. The critic of the open/critical approach
The open/critical approach, or the problem approach, is itself problematic and open to criticism, to state the obvious. Its central flaw maybe that it often rouses anxiety and provokes antagonism in those who are unaccustomed to it; in the face of which anxiety and antagonism it is then quite helpless. In such circumstances it has the opposite effect of the one mentioned in clause 2 above: namely, it then blocks learning, friendship, mutual respect, and peaceful collaboration amongst people. To be sure, this effect is a self-fulfilling prophecy caused by the educational practices of the enemies of said approach to begin with: yet a prophecy is no less fulfilled for being self-fulfilled. This invites the question: how can we circumvent or overcome the aversion to open/critical approach? How, in other words, can we circumvent or overcome the aversion to doubt, to criticism, to trial and error and to the autonomy of the individual? That the open/critical approach provides us with no satisfactory answer to this question is, perhaps, its greatest flaw.
7. The summary of my jo-credo
The summary of my jo-credo is, then, as follows: we all are immersed in doubt; there are benefits in doubt; we all need said benefits; it is the role of education, as well as of research, to afford us therewith.

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