Education and Human Futurity: Vision and Reform

Every human being lives in the dynamic present, that is, every human being lives within a pervasive process of recalling and synthesizing the past within the ever-changing present in a process of projecting a future on the basis of perceived possibilities. We live only in the present, a present synthesizing its past and envisioning its future in an ever-changing and ever-renewed process of projecting itself toward that future. This same dynamic holds true of families, groups, societies, nations, and cultures. With the development of a universal
consciousness of human beings and our common history upon the Earth, the dynamic of a synthesized past, in a lived present, projected toward future possibilities begins to operate for humanity itself. We can ask about human destiny, human opportunities, human possibilities, our common human future: about the gigantic hope for a transformed human future.

Education is about enhancing, refining, articulating and enlivening this process both for individuals, for
groups, and for humanity as a whole. Education draws upon history and human knowledge in a dynamic
interaction between the older generation and the younger generation directed toward a future of enhanced or
transformed possibilities. Educators can, of course, educate for a stability of the present world order, for
preserving the status quo as we move into the future, or to recover their idea of a lost past. But world citizen
educators with a holistic understanding of the human situation will educate for a future that transcends the
present and actualizes our highest human possibilities.

The past, like the present, for humanity in general, has often been a nightmare of scarcity of resources,
experiences of domination, slavery, exploitation, war, hate and fear, and clinging to a precarious and uncertain existence in the face of horrible possibilities of disease, suffering, death, and destruction. We may want to preserve some values, insights, and wisdom from the past, or an understanding of sacred scriptures, or some ideals of culture, but these preserved remembrances should be invariably in the name of a better future, a future transformed in the direction of peace, justice, truth, love, community, and freedom.

But however this takes place, it is the future that education is about, for the structure of human temporality,
moving from a recalled past through a dynamic present toward an imagined future, is always about some future, always projecting toward some set of imagined possibilities. Some contemporary Christians, such as Paul Tillich, Enrique Dussel, and Jürgen Moltmann, have understood the future in terms of God: the power of God and the call of God into a transformed future. Moltmann writes:

When we speak in such an absolute and dominant way of “the” future which defines all history and therefore
itself does not pass away, God is meant as the power of the future. The power of the future affects people
in such a way that they are liberated from the compulsion to repeat the past and from bondage to the
givenness of what is already there. To speak of the history of the future means to speak of the history of
human liberation. That is the basic thinking of the eschatologically oriented hermeneutic of history. (Italics
in the original, 2007: 106)

Of course human history can also be understood as the story of the struggle for human liberation apart
from a Christian framework. Other religions have understood history in similar ways, as did Karl Marx who
criticized religion as a fetter on the process of liberation. Since the Axial Period in human history some 2500
years ago, there have been religious and philosophical thinkers who have seen humanity as one reality and
history as the actualization and articulation of that one temporalized reality. Sri Aurobindo, Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore, and Mahatma Gandhi are among these thinkers. By the 20th century, the unity of humanity has become widely recognized and articulated in documents such as the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Education is about human liberation into a decent future for everyone on the Earth.

Education, which clearly bears on enhancing the future possibilities of individual students, can also be about
creating a transformed future for humanity. It can be about creating a harmonious civilization for all humanity on the Earth. Indeed, every aspect of human knowledge, when taught, operates within this process of a recalled past synthesized in a dynamic present with imagined possibilities for the future. If we study war, military training and strategy, we are similarly recalling a past and defining or imagining certain future possibilities. However, it is dawning on people worldwide that we do not have to study war, we can study peace, and in doing so establish and articulate long suppressed possibilities for human liberation and a transformed future.

In this sense education is not simply about the transmission of knowledge from one generation to the next
through classrooms, digital media, books, and lectures. Education becomes a universal process by which each
of us and society as a whole engages reason and imagination in a dynamic process of learning from the past,
and the horrific failures of the human project throughout the past and present, and exploring the immense
possibilities for a future beyond war, poverty, injustice, and oppression. Reason and imagination do not stand
as opposed faculties, but rather as complementary powers through which the process of growth and
transformation are energized. Reason is not to be understood within the tired positivist framework that
erroneously constructs the world as a collection of facts and maintains that the future must be merely an
extension and continuation of these depressing facts.

Peace Educator Betty Reardon presented a seminar at Radford University in February 1999 in which she
articulated the educational process in terms of the “Five Is”—information, interpretation, integration,
imagination, and inspiration. These five “I” words can be used as a model for the process of proper education.

Students need accurate and truthful information. Educators must operate with an intellectual integrity
distinguishing carefully what they want to believe from what is actually the case. Second, students must
understand the process of interpretation. Information is not self-interpreting. There are different ways that any set of facts can be framed, interpreted, or presented. Comprehending the interpretive process is essential to cognitive and moral growth. Third, as education progresses, students learn to integrate facts and
interpretations: to see connections, relationships, and correspondences. They learn that facts and
interpretations are integrated into world views and that there are different world views possible that integrate facts and their interpretations in different ways.

The process of education, however, should also be directed toward the higher levels of imagination and
inspiration. The comprehension and integration of information within worldviews requires that we use our
imaginations to articulate our own worldviews, deriving these with honesty and integrity from science, reason, the best understanding of which we are capable, as well as moral principles. Imagination operates within the temporal dynamic that all human life is subject to: we draw on the past, synthesize in the present, and project toward the future. All three of these aspects require imagination, but it is especially important with respect to the future. With our imagination we can distinguish our highest personal and human possibilities that need to be actualized as we move into the future. The dynamic of this process shows we are not chained to a determinism from the past. We can imagine a world of peace, justice, freedom, and equality for all human beings within a stable and protected planetary ecosystem (see Martin 2010, Chap. 3).

Our imaginations, activated in the process of education and directed toward our highest human possibilities
lead directly to the final i: inspiration. Properly educated people are inspired to become active citizens of the
world participating in the transformation of the world in the direction of peace, justice, freedom, and equality.
They are inspired to actively work with others in the process of world transformation, freely creating a redeemed and liberated future for humanity. Education needs to produce inspired citizens whose energies are directed toward realizing a transformed future for our endangered planet. Properly educated people act, through whatever the professions or walks of life in which they participate, with an inspiration that opens up a future that actualizes our highest human possibilities.

Reason, with the power of imagination, understands the immense creative and transformative powers
flowing through human beings that can bring very different futures into existence. Positivism fails to
comprehend the creative power of values, principles, and imaginative vision within human life and history.

Thetired and unimaginative study of war, of so-called “self-defense of nations,” brings with it a future of war. Instead of studying peace and a transformed future, India and Pakistan build nuclear weapons, each claiming the necessity of “self-defense,” and in the process making human life evermore violent, dangerous, and uncertain. The creative and hopeful study of peace and harmony draws with it a future of peace and harmony. Education is also about moral, cognitive, and spiritual growth. Across the board, psychologists and spiritual thinkers show broad agreement about stages of growth, the higher stages being essential to universal harmony. It is understood that perhaps a majority of persons remain at the lower stages of growth throughout their lives.

In Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” (1970), people are understood to have a primary need for
“belongingness” that often binds them to their local community and its conventions. Psychologist Lawrence
Kohlberg (1984) and philosopher Jürgen Habermas (1979) call this lower stage “conventional.” Carol Gilligan
(1982) calls this stage “ethnocentric” and James Fowler (1981) calls it “synthetic-conventional.” If one’s identity
is defined by local religion, local conventions, national customs, and regional mores, then global harmony is not likely, since it appears from this level of growth that the other religions in the world, and other national customs and perspectives are simply wrong or misguided.

These thinkers posit the higher stages of moral, cognitive, and spiritual growth as fundamental to global
harmony. Maslow speaks of self-transcendence, and Kohlberg of harmony with nature and the cosmos
(embracing all people and cultures). Habermas speaks of developing the capacity for dialogue directed toward
mutual understanding, which assumes the equality of the other and makes possible the harmony of mutual
understanding. Fowler speaks of “conjunctive faith” in which truth is recognized as multidimensional and found in all faith traditions.

Philosopher of human development Ken Wilber (2007) articulates a number of developmental stages
applicable both to individual persons and the historical development of the human species. Lower stages include the “mythic self” and the “achiever self,” neither of which can harmoniously embrace the diversity of
humankind. Higher stages move through the “sensitive self” to the “holistic self” to the “integral self” where
people (or cultures) are now able to more and more fully embrace and affirm the vast unity in diversity of
humanity. The educational process directed toward a transformed future for both individuals and humanity
must address the need for development toward these higher, more universal, moral and spiritual stages of

The five aspects of education discussed above develop our capacity to understand the paradigms, worldviews, and unspoken assumptions behind human institutions, cultures, and nations. One comes to understand,
for example, that the dominant institutions in today’s world—global capitalism and the system of sovereign
nation-states—derive from the early-modern western paradigm that emerged from the Renaissance of the 16th century and resulted in the discovery and development of the scientific method. Early-modern thinkers
developed a world view, an interpretative paradigm, that was atomistic, mechanistic, materialistic, and

This paradigm resulted in a world defined by so-called “political realism,” in which relations between
nations or political struggles within nations were taken to be about power and wealth instead of about moral
principles, human rights, and dignity. This paradigm resulted in the development of militarism by sovereign
nation-states within a world that they took to be dangerous and unstable, in which other nations might
arbitrarily attack. Meanwhile the paradigm also promoted a global capitalism in which perpetual growth was
considered “realism” and in which greed was justified by an ideology that claimed everyone somehow benefited when a few became extraordinarily wealthy and the majority sank into abysmal poverty.

The mechanistic world view of the early-modern paradigm made no room for an open, transformed future,
for dialectical emergence of higher levels of synthesis, for the influence of the unspeakable depths of existence on the surface dimensions of existence, nor for a recognition of universal moral principles as a legitimate framework for both government and economics. Education today is making room for this openness to a transformed future because we are beginning to understand that a process of cognitive and moral growth
characterizes both individual human beings and the human species. Mechanism, nation-state fragmentation,
and dog eat dog competition are giving way to the emerging paradigm of organic holism, global integration, and local and planetary cooperation for the common good of all.

We need to move, therefore, from a paradigm developed centuries ago that includes the world’s warsystem, the world’s economic system, and the world’s system of sovereign nation-states to a holistic paradigm
in which conflict is handled by nonviolent means (courts, mediation, social justice, embrace of diversity,
reasonable equity, and global institutions that embody these) and in which economics is designed to promote
the well-being of all (and not the few at the expense of the many). Nation-states, which now refuse to recognize any enforceable laws above themselves and operate from their perceived, competitive “national interests” must unite together under a world parliament and universal democratic principles.

Such a transformed world system, for example, is embodied in the Constitution for the Federation of Earth
( Under the global holistic paradigm the common good of the whole becomes
fundamental and is understood not to be in irreconcilable conflict with the deepest private good of the
individual. This common good manifests itself in the need to eliminate war, to protect the global environment,
to restore essential resources to the Earth, to protect the human rights and dignity of everyone equally, to
establish reasonable economic equity, and to solve all problems that are beyond the scope of both nations and
localized communities.

Quality education promotes intellectual and moral development through a process characterized by
information, interpretation, integration, imagination, and inspiration leading toward mature, intelligent, and
compassionate human beings who are the foundation for a transformed future on our precious Earth. The
purpose of education is not the inculcation of information into passive recipients. It is to activate the process of growth and development leading to independent and cooperative human actors capable of envisioning and
actualizing a redeemed, peaceful and just future for human civilization.

Works Cited
Fowler, James (1981). Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. San Francisco: Harper &
Gilligan, Carol (1982). In a Different Voice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Habermas, Jürgen (1979). Communication and the Evolution of Society. Thomas McCarthy, trans. Boston: Beacon Press.
Kohlberg, Lawrence (1984). The Psychology of Moral Development, Volume Two: The Nature and Validity of Moral Stages. San
Francisco: Harper & Row.
Martin, Glen T. (2010). Triumph of Civilization: Democracy, Nonviolence, and the Piloting of Spaceship Earth. Appomattox, VA:
Institute for Economic Democracy Press.
Maslow, A.H. (1970). Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences. New York: Penguin Books.
Moltmann, Jürgen (2007). On Human Dignity: Political Theology and Ethics. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Wilber, Ken (2007). The Integral Vision. Boston: Shambhala, 2007. See also Wilber, Integral Psychology: Consciousness, Spirit,
Psychology, Therapy. Boston: Shambhala, 2000.