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Colección: La Educación
Número: (119) III
Año: 1994

2. Your vision of the functionalist perspective leads me to ask: To what do you attribute the Latin American interest in personalistic education as we approach the 21st century?
This is a very good, but very complex question. I think we should consider two aspects of this question. The first is that any functional position needs to be based on an ideology because functional education calls for pre-established, pre-determined objectives, Ideology dictates the objective, and a functionalistic educator has to determine the most appropriate methods to arrive at that objective or goal. The problem is that there is no common institution or ideology. We live in a pluralistic society where those who speak of postmodernity believe we live in a spiritual situation where there is no order or common conviction that can provide us with predetermined objectives. So I think even the strongest supporters of functionalism must recognize that with the decline of ideologies and with the disappearance of guaranteed pre-established orders, functionalism is like a philosophy that exists in a vacuum. Let’s consider only the method—method is a Greek word that means “a way” or “the way to”, “the way towards.” If you don’t know where to go, it is absolutely unnecessary or unreasonable to discuss the best way to go. If I ask you the best way to travel to New York from Washington, you will probably tell me that I should take a train. If I want to go to Europe, then you will probably not tell me to take a train because it is not the right method to go to Europe, although it is a good method. The method depends on the ends.
Why is personalism growing and gaining so much? I think it may be helpful to quote a German educator from the middle of the last century. Friedrich Diesterweg wrote circa 1850 about the pedagogical situation in Europe, and said that at that time he noticed a big battle between two different movements: naturalism and supranaturalism. Naturalism was any education that started with a very optimistic and positive view of the human nature. Rousseau seemed to be a supporter of naturalism with his thesis that man is good since he comes from God and he becomes destroyed or deformed by man. According to this position, education should be restricted to mere development. If human nature by nature is good or even divine, then we must not only educate, but help the child to develop by himself. Supranaturalism, according to Diesterweg’s view, is any position that starts with a negative view of human nature. The supporters of supranaturalism say human nature is bad, deformed, destroyed, and miserable because of original sin. We therefore cannot allow the child to love, to play, or to develop. We must control and intervene strictly and strongly, and it is the adult who constricts the good child. The child’s background—Christian, socialist or other—is of no importance. Supranaturalism believes that the child is bad and chaotic and has to be ordered by the adult. Supranaturalism begins with the presupposition that there is an order, and the educator represents or knows the order and therefore has the right and the duty to adopt the child to this order. Diesterweg said these are two extreme positions that are both wrong and based on error. Human nature is neither divine and absolutely good, nor diabolic and absolutely bad. The human being is free to be either good or bad, and we must therefore look for an education that does not start with a preconception of a good human nature or a bad human nature, but rather with an open concept, with freedom, with the idea that the human person is the author of his own biography. We must think of the human person as the producer of an order; not of any order, but one that must be constructed, created or formulated through permanent dialogue with all other persons. And so it was at this time that the first roots of personalism took hold, most notably with the very important German philosopher of education, Friedrich Daniel Schleiermacher. He gave several famous lectures on education in Berlin around 1826. Schleiermacher believed that we must start with an open concept of man and view education not as mere development, nor as making of man, but as help we give to the young person so that he may become the author of his own biography. Man must write the chapter that has never been written and never been read.
What is the importance of personalism as we approach the next century? I think the pedagogical situation today is the same as the one described by Diesterweg 150 years ago. On the one side, you have extreme individualism represented by the so-called humanistic psychology which believes in auto-determination and self development. They use the concept of person without understanding what person means. Their basic concept is development and auto-realization. This is called naturalism. This is similar to Rousseau’s philosophy; he never understood the concept of the human person either. On the other hand, you have supranaturalism which restricts education to mere socialization. They say “let’s socialize the child”, “let’s construct a useful member of society, a useful part of the social machine.” This is supranaturalism as Diesterweg intended it 150 years ago. I think in a special spiritual situation of pluralism, or even in one of chaotic postmodernity, the only philosophy of education that gives us hope for the future and gives us trust in the future is personalism. Personalism maintains that human nature is open and that we must trust the child as the incarnation of hope. The child can really construct everything he wants to construct.