photo by verago @ picasaIt could be that quite a bit of your conception of how education shapes human beings is related to your conception of just what human beings are at heart before they’re shaped. Homo homini lupus (“Man is a wolf to [his fellow] man”) is one way of looking at that basic human nature. The idea that people are naturally predatory, violent, selfish, destructive, and in need of constant supervision to prevent that nature from breaking out is inherent in many ideas about education (and politics, but that’s a separate subject). Education, in this view, is about teaching people to rise above their nature–or at least to control it.

But then there are other views. Homo ludens (the title of an excellent book by Johan Huizinga, if you want some extra reading) says that humans (or human culture–which may or may not be the same thing) are defined by play. Animals do play–but it might be worth thinking about (“playing with the idea”) whether the full development of play–particularly of games–is a defining human element. And this certainly can be explored (“played out”–but I’ll stop with that–you see the point) in schooling. We’ve talked in previous units about the role of learning in play and play in learning–and how sometimes one can completely ruin the other, sadly.

And we can look at some other definitions at the same time. Humans make art. Is creativity (or creation) the definitive human characteristic? Homo generum? Heinlein’s Valentine Michael Smith in Stranger in a Strange Land says that man is the animal who laughs. Homo risum? (Excuse my terrible Latin in each of those!)

Or are we the animal with a soul? (And what is a soul?).

What is it about being human that education can speak to, and how should that speaking take place?