Essays from the Humanist Institute
Robert B. Tapp
Table of Contents
The Dilemma of Democratic Education
The Emergent University
The Brain and the University: Survival with Two Imperfect Organs
The Demise of the Humanities Department at the University of Minnesota
First, Do No Harm! Medical Ethics and Moral Education
Why Are We So Different? A Canadian View
The Humanist Educator: Strengthening the Profession
DONALD PAGE: Electrical Engineer, former editor of US and Canadian humanist publications.
HOWARD RADEST: Dean Emeritus of The Humanist Institute; Adjunct Professor of Philosophy, University of South Carolina, Beaufort, SC.
PHILIP REGAL: Professor of Ecology, Evolution, & Behavior, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.
HARVEY SARLES: Professor of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.
DAVID E. SCHAFER: Molecular Biologist, Veterans Administration Hospital, West Haven, Connecticut; founder of Humanist Association of Central Connecticut.
ROBERT B. TAPP: Dean of The Humanist Institute; Professor Emeritus of Humanities, Religious Studies, and South Asian Studies, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.
CAROL WINTERMUTE: Mentor, Class 8; former Director of Religious Education, First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, MN; former Board member, American Humanist Association.
The Humanist Institute was founded in 1982 in order to help in the education of professional and volunteer Humanist leadership. Sponsored by the North American Committee For Humanism (NACH), its students and its faculty are drawn from the university, the seminary and the various Humanist associations--the American Ethical Union, the American Humanist Association, the Canadian Humanist Association, the Council for Secular Humanism (formerly the Council for Democratic and Secular Humanism), the Friends of Religious Humanism (formerly the Fellowship of Religious Humanists), the Society for Humanistic Judaism, the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Many people have supported the work of the Institute with their energies and their resources. More than 50 students have completed the three-year course of studies and many are at work in various Humanist organizations as ministers, counselors, Ethical Culture Leaders, association executives, elected organizational officers. Other students have applied their Humanist studies in their work-lives as lawyers, doctors, business people, journalists, teachers.
This is the 11th issue of Humanism Today, a project of the faculty and students of The Humanist Institute. Each issue has addressed a theme emerging from the Faculty Colloquium of The Institute or during the annual conference of The North American Committee for Humanism (NACH). At the 1996 Colloquium, the faculty addressed "Humanists and Education," exploring, often in quite personal and autobiographical ways, how this representative group of humanists related to varied educational institutions and enterprises. Needless to say, those discussions reminded us of the varied interpretations of humanism among us.
We share, of course, a common nontheistic, naturalistic way of thinking. For some of us, the critique of religion and irrationalism is central, whereas others put primary emphasis upon practical ways of living out such a philosophy in our own times and places, an historic moment tinged with both conservatism and anomie--both deadly to historic humanism.
We also share the experience that unbelief is a common door into humanism but is, itself, not a substitute for humanism. The experiments of our century in Russia, Germany, and China have removed all doubts on this score. Our Humanism assumes unbelief in traditional religions PLUS a commitment to human reason as particularly exemplified in the modern sciences; democracy as the logical extension of universal human rights; morality/ethics as the reflection/action of humans upon their human situations.
Labels have both dictionary definitions and usage definitions. The Humanism of the Institute embraces freethought, atheism, secular humanism, religious humanism, ethical humanism. By bringing together individuals holding these varied qualifiers, the Institute classes and faculty colloquia are enriched and the varied movements are brought into better mutual understanding. This more realistic goal supplants any ephemeral mergers, and helps us avoid the organization blunderings of the past.
Our 1996 topic, Humanists and Education, recalls the central role played by education in the second flowering of humanism in the Enlightenment. Immanuel Kant enjoined his generation to "dare to become intelligent" and liberate themselves from immaturity and tradition. Once education was seen as more than simply a transmission of some sufficient past wisdom (and the growth of science facilitated the new vision), the human future came to occupy the central field of vision.
Subsequent times and places spawned conflicting views of the educational enterprise, however. For many, education was to prepare future workers to foster economic development. For others, it was to perpetuate an already completed religious viewpoint. Elitists wanted to transmit some limited canon of "greats." Authoritarians wanted to "tame" the difficult human animal. Totalitarians wanted to merge people into the volk/state/party/tribe.
The visions of modern Humanists have been more tentative, more open. The commitment to science necessitates an openness toward future discoveries. In the realm of human affairs, this translates into an historicism, an insistence on seeing things in time and context. As the liberal religious poet put it in the last century:Time makes ancient good uncouth.
Humanist views on education might well be expected to have this same "good/bad past; better future" orientation. John Dewey's philosophy of education, with its stress on consequential thinking and problem-solving (rather than "truth inculcating and celebrating) undergirds most modern Humanist views of educational institutions and processes.
This volume opens with a nuanced and provocative analysis of the tensions between education and some forms of democracy, reminding us that simple voting and polling do not democracy make (Schafer). The next articles focus on the university as the putative locus of new thinking, analyzing some of the present problems afflicting those institutions (Sarles, Regal). A case history of self-destruction in one segment of one university follows (Tapp). Medical ethics, once viewed as a simple subset of philosophical ethics, may end up contributing new perspectives and constructs to those ethical concerns that we all share (Radest). Then a reminder that education begins before, and continues , alongside and after, universities (Wintermute). The final article argues quite polemically that Humanism is not epitomized or monopolized by the US experience, and that there are other patterns for continuing the Enlightenment emphasis on the emancipation/secularization of education (Page).
The 1996 Colloquium represented here concluded by sketching out theme and topic-assignments for April 1997. The next issue will deal with Globalization. The topic is fresh, broad, and varied as one moves among perspectives. It has different meanings for politicians, industrialists, and sociologists. How does this post-cold war discussion affect humanism, and how could humanist emphases contribute to the coming discussions about globalization? Those papers and discussions will comprise Humanism Today, Volume 12.
Note. Jean Kotkin and Ana Martinez have shared in editing this volume, but any remaining errors and omissions remain at my desktop.
Erratum: An inadvertent misspelling of Roy P. Fairfield as 'Fairchild' occurred in Volume 10, pages v and 45-58. Apologies to Professor Fairfield.
© 1997 by the North American Committee for Humanism (NACH) All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof in any form, including electronic media, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.
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