Sunday, May 6, 2012
Enchanting the disenchanted contents of our science education
When we try to think about the purpose of education, what do we usually think about? To answer this question we would attempt to recall the various vision and mission statements of our various educational institutions. Once we strip them off their jargons, it seems apparent to us that they are trying to describe education as a means of meeting the needs of the state; the nurturing of a good citizen. After which, we can ask the question, what is a 'state'? If we try to think deeply about this, states and nations are merely objects that have conceptual existence; they are mere concepts that exist in the mind. Concepts that we create in our minds to make meaning of a group of individuals working together to achieve some shared needs like security, food and water. Therefore, in essence, the purpose of education, in reality, really and actually is all about fulfilling the needs of the individual, not the state.
Then we may ask the question, what is an individual? Well of course, when we talk about an individual, we are talking about a human being. So what exactly is a human being? The question of the 'whatness' or the essence or nature of a human being demands that we speak about the difference between human beings and non-human beings, so what is this essential difference between human beings and non-human beings? We share attributes that can be found in living things like nutrition, growth and reproduction, but it would not be enough to define a human being as a living thing, because a hibiscus plant is a living thing but a human being is not a hibiscus plant. We share some attributes that can be found in animals; the ability to move, of touching, smelling, tasting, seeing and hearing, as well as the ability to combine, sort, represent, record, retain and recollect information gathered by outward senses to the mind. Yet we do not call a human being an animal; a dog is an animal but we do not call a human being a dog.
Then it may be argued, that the dividing line between human beings and non-human beings is our ability to reason inductively. That is also not definitive enough, because we also observe some reasoning abilities in animals. For instance, if we feed our guinea pigs at 6 a.m in the morning consistently, we notice that at 6 a.m in the morning they would come out of their cages for feeding; this demonstrates inductive reasoning in animals. Yet a human being is not a guinea pig.
So what exactly is a human being? What is it that we refer to when we say 'I'? It is obvious that when we say 'I' we are not simply referring to our physical selves, because if we lose some parts of our physical bodies our identity still remains intact. In fact, at every instant of time the cells of our biological bodies die and are replaced by new ones, yet our consciousness of ourselves do not die and change in response to the replacement of our cells. We have to admit, at this juncture, that what forms our identity is not that which is physical in nature; it is meta-physical or beyond physical; it is spiritual.
Therefore a human being is both physical and spiritual. Yet, the contents of our education only meets the physical needs of our selves; it ignores the spiritual dimension which actually forms the essence of our selves. Today, we experience modern secular education. By secular, I am referring to what Prof Al-Attas mentions, as that which pertains to this physical world and time. Because we are exposed to contents of education that is secular in nature, we are also undergoing a process of being secularized, and by secularization Prof Al-Attas means as the 'disenchantment of nature, desacralization of politics and the deconsecration of values'. It is not my intention to introduce heavy terms in this discussion, but allow me to at least clarify what 'disenchantment of nature' means. By 'disenchantment' we mean the removing of spiritual meanings from our understanding of nature, from our scientific endeavours. As such, natural phenomena is interpreted in plainly physical-technical terms, statements, facts and theories that we call modern science. It is no wonder that science seems very unnatural or 'alien' to our students, making them disinterested in the subject matter, simply because it does not address their essential needs.
We need to realize that the purpose of education is to meet our needs as a human being, and because the essence of our own selves are spiritual in nature, it also follows that our education cannot ignore this spiritual dimension. We need to enchant the disenchanted.
But how do we enchant the disenchanted properly? Enchanting the disenchanted is not an arbitrary process that we imagine in our minds, like how the misguided ancients imagine of spirits in the trees. Our ability to imagine hence cannot determine spiritual meanings in nature, because we are capable of imagining false things too. Guidance in this matter cannot come from the physical word, or our own fantasies abstracted from the physical world, but from the true spirit world, and this guidance we call Revelation. As such, Revelation would guide our understanding of spiritual meanings in objects in nature.
And this is what we as educators should do; enchanting the disenchanted should be something we can practise in our lessons. Unlike some charlatans who are strictly academic about these things and cannot practise them in their own personal lives, I believe that these things can be practised and implemented given the right contemplation and guidance from Revelation and referring to those in authority of understanding Revelation. The classroom is our world, and we decide what to do with the disenchanted contents of our education.
With this, I would introduce several issues discussed in Physics where we can attempt to enchant the disenchanted later on, God willing. Let's make the enchantment of the disenchanted a reality.