Scholasticism and Neo-Scholasticism is a philosophy that has had a stronger influence in Christian education rather than in secular circles. This post will explore the characteristics of these philosophies as well as their role in education.
Neo-Scholasticism began as simply scholasticism and was simultaneously a movement and a philosophy that sprang up during the medieval time period in Europe somewhere between 1050 and 1350 originating in the early universities. This was primarily a movement within the Catholic church as they controlled higher education at this time in Europe. The scholars of this movement were not as concern about discovery new truth as it was with proving and establishing the validity of existing truth. In other words, Neo-Scholasticism was primarily reactionary in nature.
The reason for the reactionary nature of Neo-Scholasticism was the rediscovery of the writings of Aristotle. These writings had been lost for centuries but had been preserved in the Islamic nations. Through interactions with the Muslim world through trade and war Aristotle’s writings were translated from Arabic into Latin. Aristotle’s realistic views were a challenge to the Platonic/idealistic views of the Christian church.
Scholars, for whatever reason, were convinced that church teachings had to be harmonized with the writings of Aristotle. Why religious teachings and beliefs had to bow to the influence of one Greek philosopher is subject of debate but perhaps the status of Aristotle compelled the church to merge his ideas with their own in order to maintain intellectual leadership of Europe.
The leader of this merger of faith and reason was Thomas Aquinas. He proposed that people should learn as much as they can through human reason and have faith in matters that cannot be reasoned about. Therefore, at the heart of scholasticism was human reason which in many ways had displaced faith.
Neo-Scholasticism is the modern equivalent of Scholasticism. The primary difference is that Neo-Scholasticism has religious and secular branch whereas Scholasticism had only one main branch or school of thought.
Scholasticism focus was on accommodating the philosophy of Aristotle with christian thought. Therefore, many of Aristotle’s beliefs are reinterpreted as much as possible to be consistent with Christianity. For example, Aristotle spoke of the Unmoved Mover, which he stated was the first cause of all other causes in the universe. Aquinas equated the Unmoved Mover with God.
Reality had a dualistic nature to it for the scholastic. The natural world was understood through reasoning while the supernatural world was available through revelation and intuition. Truth could be self-evident such as “2+2 = 4” or it can depend on observed experience such as “The average life expectancy is 72 years.” The greatest truth are the unchanging self-evident such as those found in mathematics rather than observed experiential truth.
Morality is governed by reason. There is an assumption that people are rational at their core. The more rational the higher moral quality a person should have.
Neo-Scholasticism and Education
The teacher’s role from a Neo-Scholastic perspective is to help rational students develop their reasoning, will power, and memory. The teacher is the center of the education process and works with students to transfer information. The subject matter takes precedent over the students’ interest.
With its religious roots, Neo-Scholasticism see the teacher as a spiritual leader. This involves discipleship and even discipline at times. Only through this process can the student acquiring understanding of the unalterable truths of the world.
The curriculum of Neo-Scholasticism would include the humanities, math, and foreign languages (primarily Greek and Latin). The humanities allow students to understand the logic and thinking of great minds, math demonstrates unchanging truths, and foreign languages provides rigors training for the mind. The mind is a muscle that must be strengthened through examining the works of other men.
Neo-Scholasticism has not had the impact on education that idealism or realism has. The emphasis on teacher-centered instruction and memorizing is a major departure from modern forms of teaching. A good memory is not the same as a critical thinker. As with all schools of thought, Neo-Scholasticism suffers from a lack of balance. What is really needed is a flexible position that varies depending on the context.