• 12 IWC

12. Whitehead and Education

Updated: Aug 21, 2019

Section 12 Whitehead and Education

Section Heads:

Franz Riffert

Katharina Moritzen


To Build a Global Community of Shared Future for Mankind

Ping He

(School of Moral Education, Guilin University of Electronic Technology, China)

Abstract: There is no doubt that Alfred North Whitehead is one of the most intelligent thinkers and far-sighted educator in the 20th century. Compared with the other bright figures such as Edmund Husserl, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Herbert Marcuse, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Jürgen Habermas, Jacques Derrida, Richard Rorty, Whitehead has showed us a global community of shared future for mankind.

In his process philosophy, the universe is an "organism" of nature and relations. The basic characteristic of the organism is action and process. Nature, human society and the whole universe is a living organism, they are living in the eternal process of creation and evolution. Change is fundamental and inescapable, nothing ever stays the same, everything is changing from moment to moment, all things flow. Evolution is an essential part of the transformation of old and new order. The decline of order is not to enter a disordered state, but to enter a new type of order.

In this way of thinking, modernization, industrialization, science & technology order, market order, capital order, are also living in the eternal process of creation and evolution. They are changing from moment to moment, transforming from the old one to the new one.

Looking back over the past two centuries, many new changes have taken place in nature and human society. Science and technology have greatly liberated manual labour. Fertilizer has greatly increased the yield of the crops. Oil, electricity and atomic energy have replaced coal as new sources of energy. Automobiles, trains, and airplanes have replaced the primitive inefficient means of transportation. Electronic communications make it easier for people to access information, and bring the distant world closer together. Bioengineering makes it possible to reproduce life itself. In a word, human life has become more convenient, more comfortable and more leisurely.

On the other hand, regional conflicts and terrorism is continuing in the world, economic and social development is out of balance, gaps between rich and poor is wider and wider, natural resources are wasted in large numbers, economic crisis, financial crisis, governance crisis, social crisis, refugee crisis and ecological crisis are becoming more and more serious. Such confusing visions are indicating a transformation of old and new order.

In his Education writings, Whitehead had showed us how to consider critically the history of the human race. Imagination is not to be divorced from the facts, but a way of illuminating the facts. Imagination enables men to construct an intellectual vision of a new world.

What kind of intellectual vision of a new world could we construct? We could find it not only in the past two centuries, but also in the whole history of mankind. Meanwhile, we also could find it not only in the developed countries, but also in the developing ones. Mankind now is facing an era of great development, transformation and change. To build a global community of shared future for mankind, enjoy peace, security, prosperity, openness, forgiveness, and beauty together is one of the intellectual visions of the new world.


Whitehead's Educational Rhythm Thought and Its Realistic Value

Li Sen & Cui Youxing

(Elementary Education College of Hainan Normal University, Haikou, China)

Abstract: Whitehead, a famous British mathematician, philosopher and educator, divides the rhythm of education into three stages: romantic stage, precise stage and comprehensive application stage. The romantic stage is the beginning of comprehension, which itself contains unexplored causal logic. The precise stage focuses on the increase and supplement of knowledge, and the extensive relationship of knowledge is secondary and subordinate to the accuracy of systematic elaboration. The comprehensive application stage is the goal that precision training always pursues, and it is the embodiment of practical transformation of knowledge and ability. Whitehead’s Educational Rhythm Thought fully reveals the advanced learning rules based on learners’ psychological development rules and cognitive characteristics, and its realistic value is reflected in three aspects: firstly, education and teaching should follow the learner's psychological development order, cognitive construction order and knowledge acquisition logic, which requires educators to understand the characteristics of the learners' attention, memory, thinking and imagination, and to clarify the internal logic of learners' knowledge construction and literacy formation; secondly, the choice, arrangement and organization of curriculum knowledge should not only conform to the inherent logic of knowledge, but also adapt to the rhythm of learners’ study, which requires educators to integrate curriculum resources based on learning rules, transform teaching materials into learning materials, construct learning texts with intrinsic connections and knowledge logic, and organically transform them into learners' learning experiences; thirdly, the teaching process should not be simple and straightforward, but reflect the rhythm and aesthetics of teaching, which requires educators to carefully design the teaching process and create a teaching situation, so that the learners can fell like bathed in spring breeze, full of imagination and experiences.


Teaching and Learning STEM Disciplines: A Process Perspective

Cazalis, Roland

(University of Namur, Namur, Belgium, Europe)

Abstract: Whitehead advocated active learning. Since then, tests of its implementation progress slowly. Yet when it comes to teaching courses in STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), the difference in terms of effectiveness between the laboratory and the hall is quite significant. Learning in the laboratory naturally focuses on the student who must do or create something, alone or in a small group, while benefiting from the teacher's supervision to acquire good practices. In this context, the project’s status at the end of the session enables the student to assess the quality of his work himself. During the project’s development process, he faces the resistance of the problem that requires a solution. He uses his know-how, mobilizes the knowledge acquired in all areas of life, and solicits the resources of his group to optimize cognitive resources. Discoveries during the process and completing a project provide intense pleasure and boost self-esteem, together with the repetition of the exercises. The next challenge is to transpose the dynamics from the laboratory to the hall.

« Scientists need to approach teaching with the same rigor and appreciation for evidence that they exercise in the laboratory », says Robert Lue (2015). The main difficulties some scientists experience are that active learning is sharply at odds with their beliefs about teaching, and with the poor value teaching is given in relation to publications for fundraising and promotion within the institution. Active learning indeed requires much more preparation time than courses in the traditional method for students who are less willing to make the effort required to acquire the basics. In effect, culture has evolved into a playful society in which the effort is related to the immediate pleasure it provides. Another argument that is worth noting is that active learning is a slow and superficial system. We cannot get to the heart of things, and the limited amount of time allocated to a subject does not allow its full coverage. This study aims to show that it is precisely in these latter points that Whitehead's definition of living nature, which converges with his aesthetics, shows what active learning is. It is above all an integrative human experience. Thus, getting to the bottom of things is foremost about mobilizing the student's affects, while triggering the emergence of new cognitive abilities until he or she crosses a threshold and takes charge of his or her learning. Examples will illustrate this process.


Re:imagining hard facts with soft skills – the virtue of Practical Aesthetics

Moritzen, Katharina

(University of Düsseldorf, Germany, Europe)

Abstract: In a hyper-complex world that is virtually inexplicable, the question of orientation arises vehemently when it comes to creating human action as the basis for further actions, attitudes and habits. We can only act by focusing our actions towards an objective. Our ambitions are based on our knowledge of the world. But knowledge is always based on a limited spectrum of experience thus never finite but always incomplete, always in motion. Nevertheless, this knowledge of the world serves us to describe it, to define it and at the same time to be able to specify ourselves in it. Knowledge thus forms the basis and the cause of our actions (Whitehead). As every moment of our lives is characterized by its eventfulness, action marks the most concrete level of social experience.

Even though the concept of aesthetics is habitually assigned to the realm of art, beauty or harmony, it contains the potential to have an effect beyond these spheres of influence (Dewey), for example as practices relevant in education.

Etymologically the term αἴσθησις (aísthēsis) derives from the ancient Greek and refers to physical/sensual perception. This is especially interesting as we primarily perceive this world throughout our most natural instrument given: the human body, which by its sheer existence reciprocally contributes to the world as it is (Guattari). The human body is both: an instrument for perceiving and shaping this world and like that unalterably conjoined with the emergence of knowledge. If knowledge is not only reproduced, but actively experienced, modified, modelled and ultimately recreated, then chance also comes into play in the sense of an opportunity to undermine the given structures of dominance (Massumi). Chance undertakes the role of a deviating element and relates to the respective circumstances, which define the scope and thus form the basis for a future development. Also it refers to the potentially possible forms of emergence, which remain as a virtual potential below the threshold of realization. Nevertheless this unrealized potential (Whitehead: negative prehension) plays a role in the realization of reality despite its exclusion in favour of a positive act of capture (positive prehension).

As a practice that originates between theory and practice, the reception and production of the world, practical aesthetics are fundamentally political and can help to re-imagine the given structures and access unrealized potential.


Indecisions Charged with Promise: Bergsonian Images of Life and Childhood

Costa Carvalho, Magda

(University oft he Açores, Porto, Portugal, Europe)

Abstract: Although Bergson did not develop an educational thought, it is possible to find in his work references that, on the one hand, resume the creative and inventive dimension of childhood and, on the other hand, emphasise the childlike way how the élan vital works. In L’Évolution Créatrice, the reference to life as an evolutionary tendency that grows in diverging directions leads Bergson to put forward an analogy with childhood as indecision charged with promise.

Thus, the invitation that the author makes to intersect the image of life as childhood with the image of childhood as life proves to be suggestive, allowing to rethink what inhabits us as a constitutive other: the child that we were and the nature that we are. It will be in this environment that we will seek to reconstruct the scope of an idea that Bergson briefly presents in his last work, La pensée et le mouvant: schools should cultivate a child’s knowledge in the child. On the basis of the concepts of duration and possibility, we propose a reflection that rejects the usual rhythms of thought and some common representations of intelligence.

Bergson conceives reality as duration, that is, as the continuous creation of unpredictable novelty. Reality unfolds: it does not happen in the immediacy of what is given; rather, it lingers and delays. And it is this delay that allows it to be the way it is and not in differently. Therefore, any educational encounter will have to start from a perspective of continuous and unpredictable novelty. If reality goes on uninterruptedly as a dynamic process that cannot be predetermined, then we can no longer depict the educational relationship as a fossilised simulacrum of pathways already covered. Neither can educators continue to expect children to simply redo old pathways, playing the sheer role of repeaters.

Bergson’s challenge about a “childlike knowledge”, which intersects life as childhood with childhood as life, implies, thus, experiencing the opposite of what the usual faculties of knowledge propose. The secret is to seek, in counter current, the movement that is the true philosophical stance. And given that, in Bergsonian terms, philosophising is reversing the usual direction of the work of thought, a childlike knowledge cannot be found if we are not able to think backwards.

More than a simple shift of perspective, Bergson proposes a radical effort: philosophising requires that the human being strives to surpass what is customary to him/her, that he/she transcends his/her natural condition, that he/she thinks backwards and, instead of the fixed maturity of pre-defined ideas, that he/she risks looking for the promises only possible in a childlike way of life.


Fabulations on the Landscape: Feelings of Body-Spacing

Scliar Bianca; Alencar, Roberta; Loch Sylvia

(State University of Santa Catarina – UDESC, Florianópolis, Brasilia)

Abstract: From the meeting between two students and a professor in the context of graduate education, within the Graduate Program in Theater at the State University of Santa Catarina was born the reflection that crosses this text. The students, dance artists sought the course from the interest in deepening their approaches on the body-space relationship. Based on the reflections, anchored in the procedural philosophy, the Landscape Fabulations course provoked the participating artists through a series of methodologies and systems that are dynamic at the moment of study. Here we present pedagogical aspects that approximate what Whitehead, in his lecture The Aims of Education suggests as renewing propositions. In this paper we discuss not the applicability of Whitehead's suggestions about an educational project for childhood or in the sciences (topics that have occupied research in the field of pedagogy), but how process philosophy itself is thought, and especulate how can Whitehead's work be part of an educational project in the context of teaching the performance practices (dance, performance, theater).

The methodological discussion in Whitehead underlines the importance of a process of study in which "intellectual ferment" is occupied by moving ideas, not inert. In this text we construct an analysis of the class structure from the axes called "provocations", "propositions", convivialities, brought by the collective of students and the professor, observing how these axes allowed a speculative relation between feelings, experience and invention.

Our questioning revolves around the applicability of the propositions of process philosophy in a pedagogy of the arts, reflecting on how the concepts of event, superject, method and organism / environment, alter abstractions about making work and study in the arts.

Considering their previous experiences as professionals and researchers in the areas of Geography, Anthropology and Architecture, respectively, the voice of the students in this text is woven so as to establish and describe the links between the study of the processual philosophy and its practices of the body and spatiality. Concepts such as instability, fluency, perspective, primordial perception, duration and sentiment enter into debate, stressing the creative processes formulated in the context of the study of Whitehead's work and the strategies employed to modulate plans of attention in the study of his work.

Finally, by placing process philosophy at the heart of how the notion of "process" is employed in art academies we suggest an investigation about creativity, contributing to the discussion about process thinking and education


Whitehead’s Learning Cycle Approach in Science Classes: Results of a Two Year Efficiency Study

Riffert Franz

(University of Salzburg, Austria, Europe)

Abstract: Whitehead drew attention to the important fact that the accelleration of knowledge production has increased dramatically in modern knowledge societies: within one’s life-time what is considered as knowledge changes fundamentally. As a consequence, traditional ways of teaching and learning, which aimed at transferring fixed, static knowledge is not sufficient anymore. New ways of teaching and learning have to be created to teach the students the competence to solve new problems. Whitehead proposed the so-called learning cycle approach in ordert o answer this great challenge. This new learning and teaching approach is based on Whitehead’s philosophy.

However, today in the field of science and technology of learning and instruction an empirical confirmation of the efficiency of such philosophically based theories is indespensible. The presentation describes a two-year efficiency study (quasi-experimental design) conducted in Austria (6 schools, 8 pairs of classes (treatment and control; alltogether) each pair taught by the same teacher (5 female, 3 male) in physics classes, 359 socially disadvantaged students, mean age of 12,75 years) and discusses the effects of the learning cycle approach on (a) trait and (b) state emotions, (c) self-regulation and (d) cognitive develeopment oft he students. The results turned out to confirm the efficiency of the learning cycle approach for all these measured dimensions.


Whitehead’s Epistemology

Li Yang & Hengfu-Wen

(Harbin University, Harbin, China)

Abstract: Traditional epistemology, under the bombardment of different kinds of criticism, is fading , losing its brightness of attraction. A.N. Whitehead, with his process philosophy is coming to the foreground. He maintains that the solution to the problems produced by traditional epistemology has to be based on ontology. His philosophy is not a choice between “genetic-functional” and “mathematical-formal” interpretations of the first principle. Instead, its efforts focus on the fusion of the two, which is the goal of the philosopher’s epistemology .It consists of four dimensions: (1) perception involves three factors: subject, data, and subjective form. The subjective form is the way the subject prehends the data; (2) perception can be divided into three steps: causal efficacy, presentational immediacy, and symbolic reference. The initial stage of perception is responsive stage of causal efficacy; presentational immediacy is a supplemental stage; and symbolic reference is the fusion of the two, in which “meaning” is realized. (3) For an actual entity, we should know both “where it is” and “what it is”; attention should be paid both to what is perpetual and what is temporal. When we focus on what is perpetual, we emphasize the analysis of “the abstract essence”. This analysis is definite, formal, equal to a “mathematical-formal” interpretation, explaining “facts”, presenting a complex of eternal objects. When we focus on what is temporal, we actually analyze, with “he genetic-functional” method, the changing “real essence” , trying to work out the value. (4) Appearances are justifi ed by truth and beauty; correspondence theory of truth and harmony theory of truth should be both stressed.


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