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The Social Context of Values

September 11 - November 10, 1984                                                       Washington D.C.



Concern for values in education has developed rapidly in the last decade. Following a period in which people looked upon science as value-free and had confidence that it could solve all human problems, new sensibilities have developed. More attention is given now to the person as free and responsible and to the life of communities as reflecting their cultures, their rich experience and their deep commitments. This, along with serious problems of social life in society and hence in education, has generated new concern for the moral dimension of education and character development.

All of this generated an urgent need for an integrating understanding of the person and his or her growth and development. In response, The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy (RVP) designed and implemented a three level approach focusing successively on the philosophical, psychological and pedagogical foundations of moral education and character development.

In discussions of the above work with scholars from other continents it was pointed out, particularly by those in education in Latin America, that these studies focused upon personal growth. Its possibilities, difficulties and modalities, however, are affected fundamentally by the historical dynamics of the community which shape one's life. Hence, the above philosophical, psychological and educational studies needed to be continued in an explicit study of the ways in which society, in its strengths and weaknesses, is fundamental to the educational project.

Consequently, a team consisting largely of Latin American scholars carried out the present cooperative study. This approaches personal life as lived in community, through time, and thereby creating social life, history and culture. Education works with concrete persons and peoples as born into a history and culture which gives them their special capability for moral interaction. Thus, a hermeneutics or interpretation is basic for an education which would draw upon the values of a heritage and enable these to be shaped wisely in circumstances of great social change and hence psychological tension. This work is presented here under the title: The Social Context of Values: Perspectives of the Americas.

Part I on "Hermeneutics and the Socio-Historical Context of Values" first studies time, and hence the essentially historical character of the human person. This locates one in society, not as an external environment, but as one's source and destiny.

In this light, what the community has chosen in the past, how it has formed a pattern of values which constitutes its culture, and how it has ordered--and disordered--the structures of relations between persons and groups becomes a basic point of departure for learning appropriate moral relations and developing the capacity to take on the responsibilities of a moral life. To be able to look attentively at the pattern of values which makes human life possible for those growing up in a community and which shapes their destiny, Chapter II looks to hermeneutics.

This is seen both as interpretation of culture and as its critique, for through times of change tradition must be a liberating resource, rather than a set of chains holding a people to outmoded or possibly even exploitive structures. Hence, chapter II opens the way for attention to social analysis (Chapter III) and depth psychology (Chapter IV). Both are required in order to understand the external structures and the implied internal dynamics within which we shape our moral choices and build our relations to others.

On these foundations Part II, "Value Horizons and Liberation in Society," is able to look at some of the factors in the dynamics of contemporary social change under the modernizing influence of a technological rationalization of life (Chapter V). To respond creatively it is necessary to bring to new awareness an aesthetic striving for purpose, harmony and beauty in our life (Chapter VI). In turn, the grounds for this must be found in our histories as peoples and persons, that is, in our families and communities. These must be understood then, not as means for production or consumption, but as expression of human transcendence and hence of the Transcendent Itself (Chapter VII).

This provides both the basis and the fulfillment of the search for liberation at the heart of social life (Chapter VIII).

The search to transform, humanize and thereby to deepen and enrich social life is today the common heart of the search of peoples, both young and old. This volume is part of that search.




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