17 SES 01, Religion, Secularization and Multiculturalism
Education changes through time. Historians of education are interested in the question why and how this happens. Since education is a human endeavor, it is interesting to ask what the role of human agency is in educational change and who the relevant agents are. One would suspect that educational researchers are key players in educational developments. However, as the ECER 2016 call for proposals for network 17 suggests, not educational researchers, but ‘clergymen’ and people of other unlikely professions have sometimes been deemed better fit for taking leading roles in education. In this paper we want to focus not on clergymen, but on their counterparts: humanists.
Who were humanists and why is focusing on them relevant? Humanism is taken here as a modern worldview, distinct from humanism as human science (the Renaissance-meaning), but still rooted in Greek and Roman antiquity. It is difficult, if not impossible, to give a satisfactory definition of humanism and to determine who are humanists and who are not (Davies 2009). In this paper, humanists were people who called themselves such or were called humanists by others. Roughly stated, these were people who held a relatively liberal or critical stance towards religion and stressed the importance of doing good and promoting humanity. One reason for focusing on humanism for this research is as the historian Tom Steele notes in an international comparative study into nineteenth-century European popular educational movements: ‘Educational reform and the radical revaluation of sources of knowledge or epistemology really go hand in hand’ (Steele 2007, p. 6). Humanists were often characterized by a desire for epistemological renewal. Another reason is that some persons who have been labelled ‘humanist’ have played an undeniably influential role in educational development. We can think of the Frenchman Jean-Jacque Rousseau (who is included in the Dutch ‘canon of humanism’, see: Meijer 2009), the Spaniard Francisco Ferrer (Graham 2005) and the Brazilian Paulo Freire (Aloni 2007). However, it is often not clear why such people or their activities have received the label ‘humanist’, and it seems that they are being included in the humanistic tradition too easily, perhaps in an attempt of inventing traditions.
In this paper, I focus on humanism in specific historical contexts. Studying specific contexts is presumably the best way to study humanism in a historical responsible way and to trace the actual contributions of humanists to education. Three contexts or cases are selected, each of them in the Netherlands, but each time taking into account international dimensions. The first is ‘natural education in the mid-nineteenth century’, focusing on freethinkers (the humanists of this period) and Dutch primary school teachers, influenced by Rousseau and German pedagogues such as J.F. Herbart, T. Heinsius and P. Hoffman (Stolk 2012). The second is ‘education for world improvement 1912-1922’, dealing with anarchists (the humanists of this period) and the influence of WO1 on educational thinking (e.g. Stolk 2014). The third is ‘modern humanism and worldview education 1945-1969’, concentrating on the humanist movement in the Netherlands, part of the International Humanistic Ethical Union, and the popular post-WO2 philosophy of existentialism. The question thus posed for each case is what role humanists played in educational developments. Put differently, can we say that people as humanists (apart from their actual profession, but of course taking into account whether they held an educational profession) influenced the course of educational developments. In a broader sense: were people representing a specific worldview (here humanism) significant agents for educational change?
Aloni, N. (2007). Enhancing humanity. The philosophical foundations of humanistic education. Dordrecht: Springer. Angus, L. (1989 ). ‘New’ Leadership and the Possibility of Educational Reform. In John Smyth (Ed.), Critical Perspectives on Educational Leadership. London: Falmer, pp. 63-93. Davies, T. (2007). Humanism. London: Routledge. Graham, R. (Ed.) (2005). Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. London etc.: Black Rose. Los, W. (2011). ‘Honderdvijftig jaar vrijdenkersbeweging en Max Havelaar. Nieuwe ontwikkelingen in de geschiedschrijving van het vrijdenken. Tijdschrift voor humanistiek 12;46, pp. 55-60. McCulloch, G. (2011). The Struggle for the History of Education. New York: Routledge. Meijer, E. (2014). ‘Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Bekentenissen (1782)’, on: www.humanistischecanon.nl. Postma, D. (2012). Educational change, the agency of the educator and heterogeneous assemblages. Journal of Education, 53, pp. 55-74. Schilling, C., (1992). Reconceptualising Structure and Agency in the Sociology of Education: Structuration Theory and Schooling. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 13(1), pp. 69-87. Steele, T. (2007). Knowledge is power! The rise and fall of European popular educational movements, 1848-1939. Oxford etc.: Lang. Stolk, V., Los, W.& Veugelers, W. (2012). Physical education for citizenship or humanity? Freethinkers and natural education in the Netherlands in the mid-nineteenth century. History of Education, 41(6), 733-748. Stolk, V. (2015). Tussen autonomie en humaniteit. De geschiedenis van levensbeschouwelijk humanisme in relatie tot opvoeding en onderwijs tussen 1850 en 1970. Breda: Papieren Tijger (doctorate thesis) Stolk, V., Los, W., & Karsten, S. (2014). Education as Cultural Mobilisation: The Great War and its Effects on Moral Education in the Netherlands. Paedagogica Historica, 50(5), pp. 685-706.
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