The foregoing illustration depicts the interrelation between individual development, societal evolution, and education.  For a given society, there can be considerable variation in levels of individual development.  Societal evolution tend to correspond to a modal level of individual development.  Vanguard individuals beyond this level may plan import roles in facilitating societal evolution.  On the other hand, those too far beyond this modal level may be marginalized.  Due to this marginalization, individuals and educators that are too far ahead of their time may fail to impact society.  Effective change may rely on those who are beyond but within reach of the modal level.

 

Vanguard thinkers often can picture a better society.  If they do not fully understand society as it is, they may see society as an obstacle to their better world.  They may grow antagonistic toward their society.  

 

Erich Fromm is apparently a good example of this.  He developed a visionary humanistic theory.  He explained how mature love could be developed and how it could help people overcome their existential loneliness.  However, he saw the leaders of Western society pursuing other objectives that often conflicted with the development of mature love.  He predicted the downfall of Western society, (and then committed suicide).

 

Many  educators (including parents) teach to an ideal.  The student  is constantly being compared to that ideal.  Of course, the student rarely measures up to the ideal.  So, must of the feedback is negative.  The student feels inadequate and becomes defensive.  The student sees that attempts to learn typically result in failure, so the attempts wane.  Of course, the student's performance falters, bringing more criticism and even hostility.  (See How Children Fail by Johnathan Holt)

 

Modern educators teach to the child.  They recognize that every person has a certain level of knowledge that determines not only what they know, but what they are ready to learn.  If a lesson fails, it is generally not because of the student's shortcomings, but because the lesson was not tailored for that student.  The educator then seeks to evaluate the student's knowledge structure so that a more appropriate lesson can be developed.

 

This approach is effective not only for the individual lesson, but for the whole relationship between the educator and the student.  Implicitly, if not explicitly, the educator is acknowledging the knowledge that the student has already developed.  Thus, the teaching relationship begins with respect.  In addition, achievements are relative to past knowledge rather than some unattained ideal, so positive feedback is more frequent.  This positive feedback promotes a more positive attitude toward education.  Thus, adapting the lesson to the student improves both learning and the motivation to learn.

 

The importance of tailoring education to the student is well recognized.  It flows directly out of Piaget's views, as well as humanistic views of education.  It even flows of out of How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.  It is much easier to influence people who believe you respect them than it is to influence people who feel you are critical of them.  The best way to get someone to believe you respect them is to actually respect them.

 

Nothing about what I am saying about education is new or even controversial.  Student-centered education may have been a revelation earlier this century, but no longer.  Deviations from student-centered education are generally a matter of limited resources, rather than conviction.  Student-centered education is just common sense.

 

Student-centered education is a good approach even where society is the student.  A society is not just a collection of individuals, but is an organism that reacts in many ways like an individual.  Every society has a developmental level that determines what changes it is ready to accommodate and what changes it cannot.  A society is more readily influenced by those that respect it than those who do not.  Those who seek to improve society can first seek to understand it, to respect its accomplishments.  Then, they can determine what changes it might be ready to accept. 

 

Humanists, notably, Erich Fromm, have one standard for dealing with individuals and another standard for dealing with society.  Individuals are suitable object of "mature love", while societies are to blame for the lack of mature love.  Erich Fromm failed to recognize that "societies are human too".  

 

Erich Fromm was a psychotherapist who (presumably) could make a major impact on an individual patient in a few years.  It is much harder for an individual to have such a dramatic influence on a society, and the time scale for societal change is glacial compared to that for a human individual.  However, the principles of influence and change are the similar for individuals and societies.

 

There is an ironic relationship between respect and influence.  The more you respect some one, the easier it is to influence them, but the less you feel the need to.  If Erich Fromm had understood his society in a developmental sense, he might not have changed it as much as he would have liked to.  On the other hand, he would have been less disenchanted with it.

 

We are changing levels at this point to examine the foregoing discussion in terms of the cognitive stages discussed elsewhere.  Erich Fromm operated cognitively as a typical advanced adolescent.  He found his own theory so compelling he blamed the world for not conforming to it.  

 

A  meta-perspective might have encouraged a more humble attitude toward the theory.  The theory would have been considered just one of many possible perspectives of society.  In fact, the notion of a society as a student has some meta-stage characteristics.  At the meta stage, it is commonplace to consider something as being a member of a class whose elements it contains.  Societies not only include humans, but are human.  

 

When one considers this dual aspect of society, Erich Fromm's errors become clearer and his insights can be put in a proper perspective.  Erich Fromm provides a valuable antidote for authoritarian ethics, but his alternative is not independently viable.  There has never been a lasting independent society where mature love prevailed.  Erich Fromm's analysis of Western society being afflicted with a market-oriented form of immature love rings true.  But the ideal that Western society compares unfavorable with does not exist in practice.  Fromm should have compared Western democracy with more authoritarian societies in which immature love more prevalently took the form of sado-masochistic relationships.  In that case, he might have seen Western society as an advance, rather than as a "disintegration." 

 

In summary, the relationship between society and individual is two-fold.  The relationship is hierarchical in that individuals belong to societies.  The relationship is parallel in that both individuals and societies are human organisms.  Due to the parallelism, many of the principles that apply to individual development, apply as well to societal evolution.  Due to the hierarchical relationship, individuals and society both promote and constrain each other's development.  As the meta-stage becomes more prevalent in individuals, societies form will change to become more like a political friendship.  Such societies will restructure education to be more effective and better integrated into productive activities.  The improved education will increase the percentage of meta-stage reasoning.  And so the cycle with which this paper begun comes full circle.

 

 

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