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Education in an Age of Acceleration

"Our culture is marked by commercialization and scholarliness.. Gunter Grass des=cribes the antidote with view to the tasks of the school: `I propose an introductory course on Learning Slowness in all schools.' The line of this antidote has a long history. The Jewish creation narrative proclaims `And God rested on the seventh day." Another aid is Richard Rohr's book `Simplicity: The Joy of Letting Go'.
Education in the Age of Acceleration

By Manfred Kock

[This statement by the chairperson of the EKD (Evangelical church in Germany ManfredKock at the opening of the Berlin Education congress, November 16, 2000, is translated from the German on the EKD website,  http://www.ekd.de/studium_bildung?4177_1161.html.]

Honored ladies and gentlemen,

Together the catholic and evangelical churches organized a venue for social discourse, an education congress. What moved us to this congress?

Three years ago, the two churches spoke out on the economic and social situation in their declaration "For a Future in Solidarity and Justice". The "right to education and participation in cultural life" was described as a human right. An improvement of the education system was urged for the reduction of unemployment. Expenses for education and training, as the Joint word insisted, are investments for the future of society.

Today the speed of economic development has increased again. For example, the Internet was not a theme in the word of the churches. In the shortest time, the Internet has become a resource and simultaneously a symbol for globalization. More and more data are more quickly available worldwide. Modern times are times of acceleration. Charlie Chaplin expressed this in an inimitable way. Who does not recall his struggle with the huge cog wheel of industrial assembly line production and its inexorable time units? This flickering black and white picture seems to come from an epoch believed long past and overcome. This congress will show whether this is really true.

In post-industrial Germany poor in raw materials, the person becomes a decisive resource in the worldwide economic competition. The knowledge- and learning society was proclaimed to promote this resource. Education should help master the developing economic pressure of adaptation. In this way, the discussion about the efficiency of the education system moves into the center of political discussion. In addition, international comparative studies on the quality of our training startle those responsible.

The "Education Forum" was created to focus the arising debates and initiatives around a new understanding of education. Different social groups and institutions belong to the forum alongside state representatives. The evangelical and catholic churches are included. The two churches are the greatest supporters of free educational institutions in our country. The many kindergartens, schools, universities and adult education institutions with church encouragement are expressions of the responsibility assumed by the churches together with other social supporters for the public education system.

Our culture is marked by commercialization and scholarliness. Commercialization and scholarly standards dominate those disciplines that produce knowledge that is applied technically and expanded socially to enlarge our possibilities of economic action. The special interest of research and industry is targeted on this knowledge that is always subject to criticism and revision and becomes outdated through more effective knowledge with more extensive and better applicability.

Knowledge that cannot be profitably applied in this way is regarded as less important. All the intellectual efforts raising the question 1What is a person?' belong here. How can the person understand reality better and more appropriately, not only its rational structures and its economic order but its meaning, its existential depth and its humane conditions? How can a person responsibly form and develop reality? How can he or she preserve the human and work toward a humane future?

The objection is often raised against such questions that they do not satisfy the criteria of scholarliness. However these questions are indispensable even if human goals, norms and values cannot be fixed with mathematical precision. We people only live once and can only test different life designs in very limited experiments.

Learning and knowledge must be oriented in the self-image and world understanding of people. The religious dimension of this world understanding and self-image may not be faded out. The future of individuals and our society depends on gaining and communicating the knowledge needed in the future. Children must be able to live in this world and organize its future. Consequently the understanding of education cannot be limited to training persons for coping with economic and modernization dynamics. The education challenge includes the religious-worldview dimension of human life. Christian knowledge recognizes that knowledge and perception are patchwork. If I knew all mysteries and had no love, I would be nothing, the Apostle Paul wrote. In our context, this means: how we educate our children is crucial. The emergency will remain as we encounter our own limitations, the sick and dying and those who do not meet the demands of life.

The modern industrial- and service society is endangered without cultural penetration and faithful responsibility. What we can and should know and learn must be related to our culture. To grasp human cultural achievements in history and the present, the lines of technical and economic thought and action must be referred to the ethical and religious worldviews. This is an essential part of an overarching education challenge. Dealing with the new technologies only partially involves adapting individuals better to the conditions and rules of technical systems. Rather the interlocking of the system makes high claims on responsibility and accountability. Business management, according to economic ethicists, requires a considerable measure of ethical thinking that does justice to the complexity of human conduct. Genetic engineering raises ethical questions that it cannot answer itself. Not everything possible should be ventured. The dynamic of the knowledge society reaches its limit when the application of knowledge leads to annulling the essential conditions of human freedom and endangering the nature of the person.

The person is forced to independently form his or her daily life and his or her whole life design from the community of people that is more than the sum of its individuals. This is bound with an emancipation process that frees from the guardianship of authorities and institutions. The state and the church and all institutions supported by them are also subject to this process.

Thus the person becomes more and more a "boy scout" on the way to himself and fulfillment of life. This is not a simple task for many. Education is necessary. How else can new meaning be gained and communicated? On the way of education, a person must gain enlightenment - beyond economic success, knowledge and performance - about his living conditions, historical development and spiritual-religious presuppositions for personal understanding.

The opposition between the qualified and informed on one side and the unqualified and uninformed on the other side seems to become sharper than the past oppositions of groups and classes in society. Many fear not being equal to the dynamic and innovative power of the development process. Therefore the pressure of adjustment must be critically scrutinized. Answering the question about the manner, extent and speed of technological development has top priority.

We churches do not know everything better. We wrestle around the goals of learning. We ask about the standard of knowledge. In the age of acceleration, we do our utmost to give time for different ways of learning. The unavoidable adaptation to the time units of a technicized world needs a counterweight.

Gunter Grass describes this antidote with view to the tasks of the school though it can also be applied to all other places of learning and education. "I propose an introductory course on `Learning Slowness' in all schools", Gunter Grass said. For me, it can even be a special subject. Slowness would be a course against time with conscious delay, speed breaking to standstill, learning to stop and leisure."

The line of this antidote has a long tradition deeply anchored in the history of the human race. The Jewish creation narrative at the beginning of the Bible proclaims: And on the seventy day God finished his work which he had done and he rested on the seventh day from all the work which he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation." (Gen 2,2-3)

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