Searching for the universal

Thinkers in Education (four volumes)
September 15, 1995

These four volumes, each containing 25 contributions, provide a unique anthology of 100 thinkers whose influence has been formative in the field of education.

Zaghloul Morsy, the initial editor, graphically describes his vision of the complete work in an introduction entitled "The paideia galaxy". He identifies the problem he is undertaking in these words: "One hundred personalities, twenty-five centuries, five continents, dozens of countries, humanity's principal religions and cultures: how should this mass of documentation once to hand, be organised and presented?" Obviously such a panoramic coverage implies a broad treatment of the concept of education. Morsy argues that the world of education is much wider than is generally supposed: that it defies ethnocentrism, and that it is not the monopoly of professional educationists. In the most comprehensive sense in each culture the contributors deal with education as an all-round upbringing of future generations.

Each volume offers familiar and not-so-familiar names from the world's continents and from various epochs: from ancient Greece to modern New York, passing via the Renaissance, Enlightenment and the industrial revolutions of the West, to the contemporary Russian Federation and the dynamic Far East.

Morsy admits that colleagues challenged him about some of his proposed inclusions, frankly admitting that, for instance, they had never heard of: "al-Boustani, Cai Yuanpei, Eotvos, Marti, Naik, or even Vygotsky. Who are they? Where do they come from? When did they live? What have they written?" Morsy's justification for this inclusion of a Lebanese, a Chinese, a Hungarian, a Cuban (or Latin American), an Indian, and a Russian, makes fascinating, possibly controversial, reading.

One arresting feature of the anthology is what is termed its alphabetical "disorder". A chronological approach is deliberately avoided and the consequence "holds many surprises, one of the first being most definitely the shock of unfamiliarity". There is a telescoping of time and place and also of theories of education and their underlying world contexts.

Volume 1 opens with a study of the Frenchman, Alain, and ends with a profile of Celestin Freinet who died in 1966. Volume 2 opens with a study of the Brazilian Paulo Freire and concludes with a profile of the Swedish writer on educational subjects, Ellen Key, one of the few women included in the anthology. Volume 3 opens with a study of Ibn Khaldu-n and his place in education in Muslim societies and ends with a profile of Herbert Read. Volume 4 opens with a study of the American psychologist Carl Rogers and ends with a study of the Frenchman Henri Wallon challenging the view that he should be remembered "much more as a psychologist than as an educator".

To cope with this variegated assemblage of the known and the unknown, a team of scholars has been recruited from across the world. Students of comparative education will recognise some propitious pairings. For example, Krishna Kumar writes on Gandhi; Neville Postlethwaite on Torsten Husern; Jean Piaget on Jan Amos Comenius; Hermann Rohrs on Georg Kerschensteiner; Zhuo Quingjun on Mao Zedong; Yusuf Kassam on Julius Nyerere; Alberto Munari on Jean Piaget; Michel So tard on Jean Jacques Rousseau. And acknowledgement is made of the help given by that doyen of comparative education, Wolfgang Mitter.

Thanks to the cooperation of the History of Education Society there are six contributions from scholars in the United Kingdom, dealing with John Locke, Thomas More, Robert Owen, Joseph Priestley, Michael Ernest Sadler and Herbert Spencer.

For sociologists and historians, as well as for philosophers, this anthology contains a treasury of data. There are contributions written by scholars who have survived an upbringing and conditioning in societies other than those of western democracy. Sometimes there is a discernible tension in the judgements and evaluation offered. For example, this is apparent in a lengthy study and estimate of the work of Anton Makarenko. Two Russian members have collaborated, one from the Academy of Pedogogical Sciences in Moscow and the other from the Russian Academy of Education. From their exposition of "the most dialectical science" the reader can gain an insight into the structure of communist theory and practice as interpreted by survivors from the former Soviet Union. Each of these substantial profiles is enhanced by an updated bibliography, which includes reference to relevant articles, and in some cases further annotations.

Inspiring this collection is a search for the universal. It seeks to lead those who read the various accounts to open their minds to other cultures, to encourage a desire to sample other social structures by putting the thinker in an historical context and by penetrating beyond stereotypes and cliches. It is an anthology that offers a forum in which scholars from all over the world hold a dialogue, occasionally contradicting each other, and ultimately enriching each other and their readers with fresh perceptions and new cultural insights.

From January 1 1994, the editorial responsibility passed into the hands of the International Bureau of Education in Geneva. Juan Carlos Tedesco, the director, in an afterword writes: "The International Bureau of Education takes up the challenge at a very particular moment in its history: that of the 25th anniversary of its integration into Unesco . . .Modestly, but with deep faith, we undertake to respect the three principal guidelines typical of Zaghloul Morsy's work: rigour, a respect for diversity, and an ever-present openness to new developments in education."

The present English text is to be published in French, Russian and Spanish, and a selection is to appear in Arabic and Chinese.

J. H. Higginson is an honorary member of the British Comparative and International Education Society.

Thinkers in Education (four volumes)

Editor - Zaghloul Morsy
ISBN - 0033 1538 (all four volumes)
Publisher - HMSO
Price - ca. £13.50 each
Pages - 1,424; 2,411; 3,397 and 4,403

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