Today, when so much attention is placed on the quantitative and qualitative problems of education in the developing world, and on the rapid obsolescence of educational services in the wealthier countries, the lack of reflection on the nature of education is puzzling. Education is certainly not simply an assortment of teaching techniques or methods; whether we are aware of this fact or not, education is a complex human endeavor infused with purposes, goals, assumptions, and values. Therefore, when concerned citizens and policymakers propose changes in educational systems, the purposes, goals, assumptions and values involved in our educational practice must be examined.

Professor Winfried Böhm’s book, Theory, Practice and the Education of the Person, is a major contribution to this process of reflection on the nature of education. In keeping with the European tradition, it reasserts the centrality of pedagogy in educational activity. As indicated in Alden Richards’s Introduction, the German word for pedagogy means both educational theory and educational practice. In contrast to the current meaning of “pedagogy” in English, which connotes only the techniques and methods of teaching, in the Old Continent this word implies a discussion of the purposes and value assumptions implicit in education.

Professor Böhm’s philosophical background is Personalism, the school of thought developed in Europe between the First and the Second World Wars under the influence of French philosopher Emmanuel Mounier. This branch of Personalism was a reaction against the dominant philosophical currents at the time, Marxism and irrationalism, both of which had inspired antidemocratic regimes on both the right and the left. Personalism built a respectable following in many Latin American countries, and was based on the notion of the person. Its doctrine, therefore, has an immediate significance for ethics and social philosophy.

In this volume, Böhm explores the implications of Personalism for education. In doing so, he goes beyond the interpretation of education as an inter-personal process. For him, education is intra-personal; it must result from an individual’s own action. While another person can provide an initial provocation, education is only completed when there is an internal movement in the person who is learning.

In Böhm’s conception, education is not a limitation of the human being as far as his or her desires, interests, proclivities, motivations or social nature are concerned. Nor is education the natural development of the maturing individual, for example like that of a plant. Nor is it the mere socialization of that individual, as naturalism and socialism tend to regard it, respectively. These views are deterministic, based on a partial idea of the human being. Personalist pedagogy attempts to be a liberating stimulation and, consequently, the persuasive dialogue between instructor and pupil is one of the cornerstones of a personalist pedagogy.

The Multinational Project for Secondary and Higher Education (PROMESUP) of the Organization of American States is pleased to sponsor the publication of this English translation of Winfried Böhm’s book. One of PROMESUP’s central concerns is the improvement of the articulation between higher education, particularly at the university level, and the other levels of the educational system. The first aspect of that articulation is the training of teachers for secondary and elementary schools. A second aspect is the creation of new knowledge through the provision of cognitive elements and the establishment of scholastic standards for the entire educational system. A third aspect is the reflection, particularly within the university, on the nature of education itself, a reflection which is expected to inspire educational activity at all levels, from macro-policies to daily behavior in the classroom. Theory, Practice and the Education of the Person is a promising starting point for the restoration of this type of pedagogical reflection.

The problems of education are the order of the day in Latin America and the Caribbean. But there is also a growing concern with education at the turn of the century in the Northern Hemisphere. By making this book available in English—a Spanish translation was published in 1991 by the OAS and CREFAL—we hope to enhance the range and enrich the substance of the philosophical discussion concerning education.


Antônio O. Cintra