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Sep 24
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Education, “Bildung” and Mindfulness

Curriculum RedesignOn Education and Human Nature
by Charles Fadel and Dr. Han F de Wit (Shambhala Acharya)

On October 22-24, 2014, leaders in education, government, business and philanthropy are gathering in Geneva, Switzerland to develop a shared vision for education that strengthens character and improves the chances for success in life. Presented by the Center for Curriculum Redesign in partnership with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD/CERI) and the International School of Geneva, the conference, Character Education for a Challenging Century will produce a framework to guide policy development.

The conference will be available on-line and on-demand. To see the conference agenda and register please visit the web site.

The two and a half day program will bring together leaders from around the world to discuss solutions to the crucial questions: Which character traits matter most for the 21st century? And how are they best developed? Character traits include agency, attitudes, behaviors, dispositions, mindsets, personality, temperament, and values among others. The conference will inform educators and policymakers about the research indicating the importance of character for success in college, work and life. It will stress the urgency for integration of character education into the current education standards. It will produce a global consensus on the most important elements of character education. And it will showcase successful partnerships between educators, government agencies, and corporations incorporating character education in formal, organizational, and informal education.

Featured speaker, Dr. Han F de Wit, will address the topic of “Bildung” and Mindfulness. “Bildung” is Von Humboldlt’s term referring to the shaping of human beings with regard to their own humanity and innate intellectual skills. Extending the concept of education to include “Bildung” raises awareness of our own view and expectations of human beings, which is shaped – often unconsciously – by our surrounding culture. It is useful, then, to review briefly some common notions that prevail in western culture about human nature and contrast them with some non-western views.

We know from biology and the work of primatologist Frans de Waal in his famous book ‘Good Natured’ that animals like primates and some other social mammals maintain harmony in their group by developing and maintaining strategies to regulate aggression and greed among its members. These strategies imply that members of the group cannot afford to turn a blind eye on the needs, desires, and anger of other members. Each needs to be mindful of the others.

Protecting this harmony and educating the younger ones accordingly enhances the ability of primates to survive as a species. That is their form of ‘Bildung’. This good nature, however, is not based on preconceived ethics or morality. It precedes our human concept of moral goodness. We could call it basic goodness as it is a natural innate quality that is not governed or shaped by any moral thought of good or bad. The term therefore does not imply a judgment on the nature of primates – or humans for that matter.

For many of us this well-documented biological view of the human species is hard to accept. The intellectual grip that Thomas Hobbes (1588 -1679) has had for many generations seems to still hold many human minds captive. If we would turn back to our ‘natural condition’ Hobbes wrote in Leviathan (1651), human life would be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’. According to Calvinism it is only because there is a God who revealed to us how to live our lives that we know how to subdue our nasty, brutish human condition. According to the atheist Sigmund Freud, who like John Calvin had a very negative image of humans, it is only because we have developed culture that this ‘natural condition’ is to some extent under control. With some exceptions maybe human beings are fundamentally selfish, untrustworthy and thick-headed. Moreover, we nowadays know that the trauma of wars, famine and deprivation have shaped our minds and our image of the human being for more than one generation.

When we turn to education we have to deeply consider how we think and feel about human nature because these thoughts and feelings determine the boundaries of what we, as parents or professional teachers, think we can or should teach the younger generation. If we do not see and acknowledge this good nature, this basic goodness in ourselves and others, what do we transmit in terms of Bildung? What kind of legacy do we want them to inherit?

Fortunately there have been and there always will be people who are in touch with this deep sense of basic goodness, this natural longing to create a culture of kindness that lies beyond (or better: below) ethical notions of good and bad. They developed methods for cultivating and strengthening our basic goodness. We find this in all cultures.

Acknowledging this longing as part of human nature is an act of realism, not of wishful thinking. Those who hold this view are not naïve. They are well aware of the fact that this quality not only needs to be (re)discovered and acknowledged, but also needs to be nurtured. Any Bildung should be based on this for it is the binding factor of any healthy community. When it gets obscured human society – not withstanding its technological sophistication – will disintegrate. Dr. de Wit’s presentation will be based on a recently published small book Boeddhisme voor Denkers (Buddhism for thinkers, Ten Have Publishers) written with Jeroen Hopster, a western philosopher.

Nowadays people think that Buddhism is simply about mindfulness and compassion. Buddhist thought, however, has a lot more to offer, in particular to Western philosophy, sociology and theories of education. At this conference Dr. de Wit will review how a variety of thinkers ranging from western mediaeval thinkers to modern educational thinkers are viewed from the perspective of modern Buddhist thinkers such as Sakyong Mipham and the Dalai Lama. The main differences seem to be a different view on human nature as thus a different view on the possibility of educating human nature – either by suppressing it or by making it flourish. Also, there seems to be a difference about what methods of cultivation are useful: can human nature be nurtured by practices like meditation and mindfulness?

In addition to Dr. de Wit, the conference will feature keynotes from education leaders such as Andreas Schleicher, the Deputy Director of the Education Directorate at the OECD; and Linda Darling-Hammond, Professor of Education, Stanford University. Additional speakers include Charles Fadel, founder of the Center for Curriculum Reform; New York Times journalist and filmmaker Adam Ellick, the author of “The Making of Malala”; Gerard D’Aboville, the first person to cross the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by rowing, solo and author of “Alone”, author, “Wilful blindness” and TED presenter, Margaret Heffernan; and Barry Schwartz, professor, Swarthmore College; and others. The program will also include panels of foundation and education leaders. To see the conference agenda and learn more, please see this website.

About the Center for Curriculum Redesign (CCR):
The CCR is devoted to the question: “What should students learn for the 21st century?™ “ Our mission is to answer this timely question, and openly propagate recommendations and frameworks on a worldwide basis. The CCR brings together non-governmental organizations, jurisdictions, academic institutions, corporations, and non-profit organizations including foundations. Please visit its website.

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4 responses to “ Education, “Bildung” and Mindfulness ”
  1. Yael Codriansky
    Sep 29, 2014

    Extraordinary! Acharya Han de Wit: may all the dralas of the lineage be with you that day and permeates the mind and culture of the planet!

  2. Ellen B- In my reading atheism was not condemned. Rather, the author used Freud as an example of one atheist with a particular attitude, contrasted with calvinism on the religious/theistic other hand.
    In that rhetorical frame, one could then go ahead and find a philosopher (counter point to Hobbes), a theologian (Vs Calvin), and an atheist (Vs Freud) who each support the “Good Natured” point. Any nominations?

  3. Overall a wonderful view of education. When I tried to post the article to facebook using the supplied f button the graphic included was the Ad for DDL, thus I didn’t post it.

  4. I strongly object to the use of the word “atheist” as an example of somebody negative. It has traditionally meant someone who doesn’t believe in a theistic God, not necessarily someone who has no Faith. A lot of atheists have been in connection with their own Basic Goodness, and done heart things to help others.

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