The first birth is surrounded by the “cultural setting”; the second birth is into “education”, when the person is shaped via pedagogical, psychological and scientific methods; and the third birth is when a person “gives birth to themselves”, referring to time when one can shape one’s own life through one’s own free will.
When we are born, we enter the world with nothing but genetic features, abilities and natural tendencies. We start to become shaped by the references of the cultural setting into which we are born. We cannot choose our parents, race, religion, locality or history; in short, we cannot choose our culture. The family culture of care and affection is limited with sanctions every time there is dissent; thus, in the first few years of our lives, when we are the most vulnerable and need protection the most, we are forced to obey and be dependent on authority. This acquired cultural identity is constantly supervised by the social environment – society, as a giant organism, does not want to leave this new member alone unless they are digested and made to adapt. People in narrow social settings in particular are shaped by customs, traditions, lifestyles, modes of production and the relationships of production – if people do not encounter different lifestyles, they start to perceive their surroundings as the only reality of life.
The strongest traditional institution in society is the family. As the family serves as an affective instrument in the creation of identity, it sows its seeds within the deepest layers of an individual’s psychic processes, shaping the psychic infrastructure through relationships of motherly affection, fatherly authority, and sibling rivalry and solidarity, while also providing sanctuary, protection, nutrition and support. In the traditional structure, as the family transfers its cultural attitudes, which are soaked in habits that are thousands of years old, to its new member, it also enforces a moral determination. Personality is usually disregarded, as the goal is to ensure that behaviors conform with society, and through the suppression of personality, differentiation is prevented. Children are usually punished by shaming, which results in a lack of “self-respect” in personality development, and the individual is forced to accept faith-based prohibitions without question. Obedience without reason or known justification stunts the growth of “mental judgment capabilities”. As traditional knowledge is passed down from generation to generation, so are many empty beliefs, which are accepted without question. Children are forced to take up the professions of their fathers, with no regard for their own nature or tendencies.
People, rendered passive under the “cultural siege” and “tutelage”, develop a “dependence on authority”, and this style is adopted also by traditional educational institutions, which maintain and strengthen the dependence on authority, being content with serving as mere conveyors and adopting a rote-learning approach. The mere “conveyance of knowledge,” devoid of questioning, inquiry or criticism, obstructs the development of free thought and creativity, and this form of consciousness would, in turn, lead to the defense of bigotry and dogmatic thinking due to the simple adoption of the views of the dominant powers.
In the historical process, the first stage in the development of humanity corresponds to childhood, and so the above discussion of the first birth can be applied also to history.
The second birth is into education. In human history, this refers to the transformation that accompanied the age of enlightenment, while in the biography of an individual, it refers to one’s birth into education or “from tradition”. Education is certainly a life-long process, but when we make a distinction using the concept of birth into education, it must have a more specific meaning. Accordingly, herein I use the concept of “education” in the modern sense of the term, meaning the reshaping and restructuring of an individual through pedagogical, psychological and scientific means, based on their natural abilities and tendencies. “Education” deserves to be described as the second birth because it involves such a fundamental change.
In its pre-enlightenment sense, education can in no way be considered a positive instrument, as the goal is to train people who are dependent on tradition and on other people, and who are obedient to the commands of authority. Doctrines are expected to be accepted without question, and teachers are the sole authority – passing out commands that the student needs only to obey. As the conveyed knowledge is expected to be memorized, the ability to act according to one’s own is underdeveloped.
To be born into education, one must be born “from tradition”; thus, education starts with a “personal revolution”, and the process of education turns into a “process of enlightenment”. As a result of this restructuring, scientific doubt replaces belief; questioning replaces obedience; research replaces the mere conveyance of knowledge; examination, analysis, synthesis, criticism, and interpretation replace rote-learning; reporting replaces assumption of certainty; rational and scientific knowledge replaces faith; and freedom replaces obedience as the basic virtues.
Modern education plays a role in enlightenment, and targets the raising of liberated individuals with strong personalities. Modern thought is consistent but independent thought – one that looks no further than human reason to search for references, authority or confidence.
In traditionalist education, the goal is not to develop the person, but to ensure that they acquire the intended knowledge. Modern education, in contrast, rather than trying to load the individual with knowledge, instead seeks to encourage the individual to comprehend, understand and, when required, generate knowledge on their own.
Having knowledge of an issue is different to understanding. “Understanding”, as defined in modern hermeneutics, means that the individual has examined the topic at hand with their free consciousness, has recognized the distinctions between units, and has reached a new synthesis. The modern approach, therefore, focuses on the individual and not on the knowledge – in short, knowledge is for humans, not the other way around.
“Creating the right environment” is crucial in the modern approach. What is required is the creation of a secure intellectual environment where people can speak freely and express their ideas without fear or hesitation. Classes should be organized as “thought workshops”. Dominating, winning or losing should not be the goal in an intellectual activity; instead, it should aim at development and enlightenment through the examination of a topic in stages, having discussions, and making contributions and criticisms. What matters is teamwork, solidarity, and the unity and harmony of differences.
Societies train their members to respond to the world in active and creative ways. Widespread education aims to improve all individuals, and to achieve society-wide development. The primary goals of national education are to train good citizens, and to equip them with professions, in this order, and the educated individuals are then expected to produce high-quality goods and services for society.
In all contemporary societies, education is shaped on the basis of economic, political and social needs and goals. Researchers examining the human psyche and behaviors have drawn conclusions about human nature based on their studies, and consider it a duty and a responsibility to control human behavior through scientific methods using the behavioral approach to education. However, given the possibility that the dominant classes will turn society into a herd to serve their own interests, the idea of controlling behavior has come under criticism. The idea of observing and classifying people and making predictions about them with the ultimate goal of controlling human behavior –as implemented in education for a long time– led to a backlash, and was criticized by many thinkers as an attempt to reduce people to mere objects.
In agriculture- and craft-based societies, education emphasizes imitation and apprenticeship. Education is placed in a context of knowledge or profession, and this is how the accumulated knowledge and skills of a society are passed on to new generations. In industrial societies, on the other hand, education is more regulated and takes place in schools. When the approach to education is modeled on a lathe workshop, the goal becomes the production of uniform people that resemble one another. This was the approach to education that was adopted in the industrial age, when individuals were treated like products and shaped for use in industry. However, in the face of criticism from existentialist thinkers in particular, and such concepts as “responsibility”, “authenticity” and “preference”, along with “the idea of free individuals” who were free to shape their own lives, debate was opened about the uniqueness of each individual and the organization of education to resemble a dialogue.
Existentialist and humanist educators view society as an organism that changes with the contributions of its members. The humanist education curricula values “developing creativity,” “thinking differently”, “critical evaluation” and “change-inducing skills”. Humanist educators view students as “individuals” rather than as members of a national group.
When education focuses on the individual, it becomes a process, and the idea of “life-long education” emerges. In life-long education, post-school education is more practical than academic, being applied rather than theoretical, and being focused on the acquisition of skills rather than knowledge of facts, aiming to improve the knowledge and qualities of learners. Adult education is organized by civil society, and classes are supported by local governments.
The phenomena of being born into education from tradition and the restructuring of people emerged in the age of Enlightenment, within the process of acquiring nationhood. This, in turn, led to a conflict between scientific attitudes on the one hand, and tradition and beliefs on the other. The Enlightenment was a rupture with the past that damaged the inter-generational peace. The conflict between people who wanted to conserve the past and those who embraced the new has grown, giving rise to the emergence of two political movements, being “conservatives” and “progressives”. “Pro-enlightenment rationalism,” together with industry, created modernity as a base, and positivism as the corresponding superstructure.
As it fought with traditionalism to survive, positivism used authoritarianism – corresponding to the educational approach of traditionalism – against traditionalism. Positivism thus came to be defined by its opponent, and adopted authoritarianism in the political and social fields, in addition to the field of education. The authoritarian approach prevents the individual from defining him/herself, in that the individual is defined and determined by authority. As a revolutionary attitude, this is an act of replacement of traditional institutions, hence the authoritarianism. Positivism –as the universalist position of pro-enlightenment rationalism– was turned into a quasi-religion in the form of universally applicable forms that were expected to be followed by all societies. Moreover, positivism started to impose its native European culture on other societies. Rationalism and scientism, which seemed innocent enough in the beginning, were turned into instruments of imperialism over time, reveling that societies needed to adopt rationality not rationalism, modernity not modernism, and scientific attitude not positivism if they wanted to create contemporary individuals who are at home with their own culture. In its essence, the Enlightenment ideology envisaged individuals having the right to define themselves. However, the political authority chose to be protective and to provide supervision until the rational scientific attitude became widespread through education – which was a decision fueled also by concerns of a counter-revolution.
In the final analysis, the right of individuals to define themselves is a matter of competence. The ability of an individual to exercise their own rights and freedoms, and to define their own duties and responsibilities –based on their own free will and without the protection of supervision– would be an indicator of their competence. In this case, the individual is not defined by others, or by any power other than themselves. Rather, the individual defines him/herself based on his/her own perceptions and what they find to be meaningful, which makes them free and competent, to the extent they reserve the right to define their own identity.
Today, a monocultural life is no longer possible in any part of the world, and so intercultural interaction and communication has become more important than ever. Cultural withdrawal, which requires the severing of communications, leads people to perceive their own cultural lifestyle as the only legitimate one, and to deny others of their right to thrive. This, in turn, leads to cultural assimilation over time, which is referred to as “acculturation”. Rather than forming an egalitarian relationship, acculturation places the other culture in a secondary position, which is then forced to accept the wishes of the dominant, more powerful culture. The result of such oppression is cultural genocide, examples of which are abundant in human history involving almost all societies. Accordingly, contemporary people need to revisit the issues of “self” and “other” in the context of the right to exist.
One of the main functions of education is the internalization of knowledge. As the educational approach to be adopted depends on the “nature of knowledge”, positions regarding the nature of knowledge should be made explicit. For example, making a distinction between knowing the “what” and the “how” of something would affect one’s approach to education. Knowing the “what” means knowing the product, with emphasis on the acquired knowledge that the learner is expected to reproduce once the curriculum has been completed. Knowing the “how”, on the other hand, emphasizes the techniques that the learner can implement in future learning situations.
We have suggested that people are born three times, the third birth being when people give birth to themselves. People who give birth to themselves are “revolutionary”, and revolutionary people are those who are able to see the conditions that would lead to a qualitative leap in human history, and manifest those conditions in themselves as an independent character. People who give birth to themselves are the subjects that make history. Their existence is not merely for their individual lives, as oftentimes, they internalize and embrace a humanistic ideal with such passion that they disregard their individual lives. Revolutions happen when this passion meets societal will.
* First published in Us Düşün ve Ötesi (Reason, Thought, and Beyond), no.2, 1998. Translated by Dr. Emre Eren Korkmaz, and revised by the editorial board.