While writing this essay, an hour-long of traditional-spiritual Turkish/Ottoman music was playing in the background. Words cannot describe the beauty of the music and the truth in it. Seems to sync with the philosophy emanating from the work of America’s iconic architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.
I BELIEVE THAT IN THE SEARCH FOR THE ANSWER LIES THE ANSWER – Frank Lloyd Wright
On the ground in my garden carved on a stone, the words of the quintessential American architect Frank Lloyd Wright are what should inspire us in organizations and learning institutions to construct what the meaning of learning should be. From visiting iconic buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and getting into his philosophy of creating these “semiotic of living and life-celebrating” spaces, I believe that this quintessential “organic” architect embodied the spirit of experiential learning, the guru of it all is America’s home-grown philosopher of education and fine articulator of our democratic ideals, John Dewey.
Fascination with Frank Lloyd Wright
I was educated about Frank Lloyd Wright more than a decade ago by two members of my family who were then Architecture students who now are practicing their profession in a major American global firm. They would teach me about the principles of design, what to see in buildings, the Ying Yang of the built environment, how structures speak to us, and the goal of architecture in harmonizing Man, Nature, and the built environment. My contributions to these conversations were in the form of adding political-economic, cultural, and philosophical perspectives to the subject matter.
Over the last 25 years, I had visited museums in New York City where Frank Lloyd Wright’s works were exhibited, one was in the year 2000 when I saw his plan for a “Greater Baghdad,” before the US war with Saddam Hussein broke out and before the iconic capital of Iraq was destroyed by the US occupation. I have visited places where the architect had his signature buildings: Falling Waters, Buffalo, Chicago, Arizona, and of course New York City where the Guggenheim Museum is. Been inside his home and his studios and got the feel of what he was doing.
Today, it is the philosophy of American pastoralism that I am interested in, as this essay suggests. Of freedom with a conscience. Of erecting structures with a deep respect for Nature. Old school wisdom of Americanism infused with Shintoism, I’d say, as Frank Lloyd Wright was influenced by the ancient Japanese spiritual tradition.
America the transcendental
Back to the quote carved in the piece of rock, partly buried in the ground in my garden, “… the search for the answer lies the answer …” The idea is simple: to arrive at truth and the beauty of it, one has to experience the calm and stormy weather of the journey. This is what we are all about if we choose to be wiser as we grow older. Deweyian philosophy of education gave birth to the Progressive Movement, forming the intellectual and pedagogical bases of how we educate society — to become not only good workers but good citizens. I would add two more dimensions to these foundations: to evolve into those who possess cultural competency and a deep sense of ethics and spirituality from which compassion will emanate. Process Philosophy, as Dewey would call it. Essentially American.
This is the architecture of self, society, community, nation, and global community we ought to master to make this world a better place for the poor, desolate, powerless, and those left behind in the essentially linearly-trajectoried-profit-driven-corporations-dominated society we live in.
How does this idea of creating and finding meaning translates into education? In the American democratic tradition of educating? It lies in the search for answers by freeing the imagination. Through the freedom of inquiry. Through process philosophy.
American democracy in the classroom
Each child has the right to be intelligent, we educators believe.
In the United States, public school teachers, community colleges, and university professors have all the guarantees of academic freedom as rights in their collective agreement with their respective institutions; rights that are also enshrined to ensure that the students they educate will become intelligent and informed citizens. (The guarantee is now threatened with the emergence of ideologically bipolar America)
Academic Freedom clauses from the American Association of University Professors include
1) Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties; but research for pecuniary return should be based upon an understanding with the authorities of the institution.
2) Teachers are entitled in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject. Limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institutions should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment.
3) College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence, they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.
Another example comes from the renowned research university, Columbia University, in New York City:
‘The University is committed to maintaining a climate of academic freedom, in which officers of instruction and research are given the widest possible latitude in their teaching and scholarship. However, the freedoms traditionally accorded those officers carry corresponding responsibilities. By accepting appointments at the University, officers of instruction and research assume varied obligations and duties.’
Clarifying that commitment, it states:
‘Academic freedom implies that all officers of instruction are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subjects; that they are entitled to freedom in research and in the publication of its results; and that they may not be penalized by the University for expressions of opinion or associations in their private or civic capacity; but they should bear in mind the special obligations arising from their position in the academic community.’
These statements of guarantee have become the cornerstone of the culture of ‘free spirit of inquiry’ enshrined in the thinking of American academicians and one that emanated from the protection of the fundamental rights of the individual.
Recapturing American Renaissance
De-school the mind we must. What do we mean by this? Herein lies the need to go back to the ideals of the Renaissance.
The mind of the child must be infused with philosophical thinking; trained in the art and science of judgment, reasoning, imagining, and envisioning – beginning at a very young age.
Religion, for example, can no longer be taught via the “banking concept of education”, as the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire would call it, but instead via the system of active questioning fashioned after Socratic dialogue. A mind that is schooled, tamed, made docile, and systematically indoctrinated can be a good candidate for training camps in senseless crimes that kill innocent people.
As early as possible youth must be taught to use philosophical quests in learning about religion, history, and the humanities, so that they may then learn to create meaningful connections between what is preached and what is personal to their understanding.
There is nothing mentally/educationally damaging about questioning the teacher, be it secular or religious. If they have the answers, those will be the teacher’s answer and understanding – they are not the students’.
By questioning what is learned, students can construct their own understanding of what their socially-constructed reality will be. Each child should be encouraged to question whatever they have of what they are learning, be it History, Theology, or Psychology for example. We need to inculcate the spirit of the Renaissance period of “dare to know” without the fear of being made ignorant. A constant rebirth of the sociological imagination would be the evolving vision of what learning and living ought to look like.
As an educator for more than 30 years, I believe only through such a mode of learning that we will be able to create educational practices that are preventive in nature and work against the creation of one-dimensional beings, as the American social philosopher Herbert Marcuse would call unthinking beings. The foundation of this form of dialogical human enterprise will be education for critical consciousness and peace education.
What next, where next?
The advent of the Metaverse. The inevitability of climate destruction. The perfecting of the Matrix. The push for Critical Race Theory. The rise of a critical mass pushing for “cancel culture” in schools and universities. The abandonment of examination of ideas from multiple perspectives. The black-and-white-only view of society. These are the domains of subcultures of intellectual and moral disabilities we are seeing emerging.
What would Frank Lloyd Wright and John Dewey say, if they were still alive today?
The beautiful collection of Ottoman/Turkish music is still playing. The sound of the reed. Wailing, weeping, serenading the deepest dungeons of the soul. I don’t know whether to feel sad having it end or to have to conclude this essay on what we need in educating the next generation – those we are leaving behind a world destroyed by the technology we created with the hope and supposition to liberate. The Frankenstein in us we unleashed. Elon Musk’s dancing humanoids we enjoy watching and fantasizing about when they will become more than human.
There are no answers. Except those we craft ourselves with our level of comfort. Just more lamentations. As solemn as the wailing sounds of the beautiful instruments from the Ottoman music in the background … fading … as our lives will be … .