Education as Creative Power

1. Why Education?

Why would a mathematician-philosopher concern himself over many years with education? Why would others return to his work for decades of guidance in educational philosophy and practice? Alfred North Whitehead was a persistent educator and educational thinker, even while adventuring with ideas and developing a cosmological system. Perhaps this is the very reason why he was so concerned with educational practice. He personally witnessed the lack of adventure in much educational practice, first in his native England and then in the United States. He even witnessed the penalties sometimes paid by other adventurers with pedagogy. More positively, he saw the power of creative people tapping into the creative powers of the universe and contributing to the creative advance of history.

Certainly Whitehead is joined in history by other philosopher-educators: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Confucius, Johann Pestalozzi, Friedrich Froebel, Jean Jacques Rousseau, John Dewey, William E. B. DuBois, Ivan Illich, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, to name a few. This suggests that natural connections exist between thinking about the universe (philosophy, metaphysics, cosmology) and thinking about thinking (epistemology). Natural connections also exist between both of these and educating future generations. These connections include the obvious expectation that great minds are often expected or required to be teachers themselves. Three other connections are also important. First is the inherent connection between the desire to reflect deeply on the nature of things and the desire to engage others in dialogues of exposition and discovery. Second is the yearning to pass one’s own discoveries to new generations, both for their sakes and for the well-being of society. Finally, there is the inevitable discovery that knowledge has unfathomable depths that require an ongoing process of learning, teaching, and learning again.

Given this propensity for philosophers to turn to education, Whitehead stands out as one of those who reflected on education both explicitly and implicitly (in his cosmology). For this reason, we turn to Whitehead’s educational legacy as a ground upon which to build future visions. This legacy includes his writing as well as others’ work inspired by his philosophy.

2. Whitehead and his Legacy

One can parse Whitehead’s contributions in many evocative ways. Most commonly, people name the contributions in relation to his “rhythms of education”: romance, precision, and generalization (AE, 15-28). Not only have people built upon Whitehead’s rhythms (Gunter, 2006; Evans, 2005, Breuvart, 2005; Woodhouse, 2005; Allan, 2005; Brumbaugh, 1982), but they have also entertained different permutations of them, more and less in dialogue with Whitehead. Still others have enumerated other summaries of Whitehead’s contributions, such as Allan and Evans’ (2006) summary into “a different three R’s” for education: reason, relationality, and rhythm. In light of these rich ruminations by Whitehead and his inheritors, I suggest five accents to represent Whitehead’s educational contributions: creativity, reason, rhythm, relationality, and rootedness.

2.1. Creativity and Creative Advance

For Whitehead, the principle of creativity underlies the dynamism of the universe; thus, everything in the universe, micro-realities and meta-movements, is imbued with creativity. The creative process is best exemplified by the process of concrescence, in which the “many become one and are increased by one” (PR, 21). In this process, all elements of past experience are brought into a new unity in a becoming occasion, and the new occasion then becomes an element of experience for later occasions. By this basic, subatomic process, repeated billions of times every millisecond, everything that exists comes into being. The process takes place in rocks and trees, animals and seas, tiny plants and human beings; thus the entire universe is continually becoming, opening possibilities for the creative advance of the world. On the other hand, the possibilities for destruction are also magnified by this creative process, as when something is created that snatches life from others.

One educational theorist, William Doll (1993; 2002), has given particular attention to creativity, relating it with chaos and drawing upon chaos theory to explicate a relation between chaos and order. He argues that chaotic order operates in the natural world, as in patterns of population change (e.g., the birth-rate/death-rate ratio among gypsy moths). The wildness of chaos exists within a simple order (1993, 96). Doll then constructs a chaos-complexity theory of curriculum, which invites people to form patterns and order by returning frequently to ideas and practices, thus finding or constructing a pathway of meaning rather than a static content or product (96-102). The result is depth and adventure. Such a view is compatible with Whiteheadian metaphysics because the view of knowledge is open and interactive. As Doll says, “The world’s knowledge is not fixed waiting to be discovered; it is continually expanding, generated by our reflective actions” (102).

The concern with creativity comes in many forms in Whitehead and his inheritors. From beginning to end, Whitehead accented creativity in his writing, especially the creative interplay of past and present with novelty in the ever-becoming processes of this world (AI, 192-193). For him, the very nature of the world is creativity; hence, education needs to participate in, and equip people to participate more fully in, that creative process. The accent falls on imagination and aesthetics. What he hoped to avoid in education and in philosophical thinking was “minds in a groove” (SMW, 197). What he hoped to instill and encourage was “habits of aesthetic apprehension” or “the habit of enjoying vivid values” (SMW, 199-200). These accents are carried forward by many philosophers of education in the Whiteheadian tradition, people who have had varying degrees of relationship with Whitehead himself. Indeed, many inheritors have argued for developing educational theory from convergences of Whiteheadian thought with pragmatism, constructivism, and compatible philosophers of education, such as John Dewey and Henri Bergson (Riffert, 1999; Hendley, 1986; Bashor, 1991; Gunter, 1995).

Early in the development of a process-relational philosophy of education was Bernard Meland (1953), who concerned himself with higher education and human consciousness. For Meland, the goal of higher education is to cultivate appreciative consciousness, or the creative human response to the creative emergence of the world (1953, 51). This requires integration of past, present, and future; imagination and critique; and science and art (1953, 79-109). Because of his fundamental accent on creativity, Meland did not think that moral consciousness was a sufficient end to education; appreciative consciousness was essential if people were to reach toward mystery and wonder. Similar accents were offered by Meland’s contemporaries such as Philip Phenix (1975), who accented transcendence in the methods and goals of education (1975, 323-324), again pointing to mystery and wonder.

Later still came educational theorists such as Donald W. Oliver and Kathleen W. Gershman (1989); Robert Regnier (2005); Mary Elizabeth Mullino Moore (2004; 2005a); Pete A. Y. Gunter (2005), George Allan (2005), and Christelle Estrada (2006) to name a few. Regnier links imaginative learning with creative subjectivity; Moore posits that imagination is at the center of educational process; Gunter recognizes the power of creativity in counteracting what Whitehead disdains in “inert ideas.” Now, in the early twenty-first century, we also see the emergence of major teaching and research projects across the world, building upon the creativity accents of Whitehead. Among these are the China Education Project, focused on education and values in universities and colleges throughout China; the action research taking place in the Saskatchewan Process Philosophy Research Unit, University of Saskatchewan; and the revision of teacher education taking place at Kentucky Wesleyan College. These and other projects reveal the power of creativity in education and the role of imagination, which Estrada playfully follows Whitehead in calling “a contagious disease” (121; AE, 97). Creativity breeds creativity, potentially contributing to the creative advance of the world.

2.2. Reason

This reflection on creativity has already pointed to reason as a significant accent of education. One might think that reason is so obvious as to be taken for granted in education, which is typically understood to teach people facts and ideas so they can function in the world. Education has traditionally been understood as the intentional process of teaching people to engage the wisdom of the centuries, to think, to make decisions, and to act. These actions can all be seen as components of reason. On the other hand, in popular imagination, reason is typically limited to a narrow range of forms, particularly those that focus on logic (“if this, then that”); cause and effect (“this causes that”); proof (“these facts lead to these conclusions”); or argumentation (“these reasons lead to this conclusion”). These are all important aspects of reason, but are largely linear patterns that obviate other aspects of reason that entertain novelty, play with ideas, explore depths of feeling, construct new paradigms or social practices, explore aesthetic expression, or integrate disparate realities in strange new forms of meaning.

By naming this large, inexhaustible range of reason, we expand upon both the subjects and methods of education. We stir imagination regarding Alfred North Whitehead’s own understanding, well summarized in his pithy statement: “The function of reason is to promote the art of life” (FR, 4). Lest I be misleading, I hasten to add that such practice of reason includes traditional forms, such as logic, which Whitehead understood to be critical in learning, both in precise investigations and in larger philosophical rumination (AE, 89). Indeed, he believed that logic can be an avenue for opening the world: “Logic, properly used, does not shackle thought. It gives freedom, and above all, boldness” (AE, 118). Reason in its many forms is thus a network of pathways by which people explore the heights and depths and breadth of life, which awaken them to complexities, connections, and new possibilities. The adventurous practice of reason can break open abstractions that prevent people from “straying across country” with new ideas and combinations of ideas rather than travel in familiar grooves (SMW, 197). It is the way to counteract Whitehead’s “inert ideas” (AE, 13); to encounter the world aesthetically in its immediacy and wholeness (SMW, 199); and to encourage analysis and precision to the end that new generalizations emerge (AE, 30). In this movement of generalization or mastery, the whole comes back into view with greater clarity or freshness of perspective.

Such a range of reason leads beyond linearity, as George Allan and Malcolm Evans argue (2006, 3-7 and 155-167), but it does more. It avoids the popular rhetorical move of narrowing the meaning of reason to a techno-rational process, then setting reason over against some supposed opposite, such as creativity or feeling or aesthetics. By claiming the wide range of reason, one acknowledges that reason is a creative process with many forms. One recognizes that all aspects of human knowing are included. Indeed, reason is itself an aesthetic way of relating with the world, engaging the world through the multiple senses and intuitions and practicing many forms of analysis and interpretation to yield many conclusions in thought and action. It is closely allied with creativity and imagination, as discussed above, and its purposes, like the purposes of creativity, are to contribute to greater value in the world, or to what Whitehead refreshingly called “the art of life.”

2.3. Rhythm

The discussion of reason leads naturally into the educational value of rhythm, a major mark of Alfred North Whitehead’s philosophy of education. The rhythms of romance, precision, and generalization (AE 15-28) begin with the wonder of new discovery and conclude with the wonder of new integrations. Robert Brumbaugh prefers to rename Whitehead’s last rhythm as “mastery” (1982, 45) or “satisfaction” (1982, 119), for it represents something beyond a theoretical abstraction. When a person learns a musical instrument, such as the piano, the person often enjoys playing with the piano in the beginning and wondering at the resonant sounds and her ability to play simple tunes. This is only the beginning, however. The novice pianist then studies the precision of notes, scales, chords, and diverse compositions and styles. When a pianist has accomplished a high level of precision, she is then able to play complex compositions and improvise in creating new sounds and effects. This exemplifies Brumbaugh’s mastery. Many pianists and other musicians describe this transition as the time when their practicing becomes a delight; they have crossed a bridge into satisfaction.

Thus far, I have described the rhythms as a large movement over time; yet, the rhythms also occur in shorter and recurring cycles. Thus, one might experience the three rhythms in learning to play a new composition on the piano, beginning with the romance of exploring the new piece, followed by painstaking practice, and concluding with delightful mastery of the piece. One might even experience more than one cycle with the same composition, experiencing it afresh in romance and developing a new style or approach to it through precision and mastery yet again. In learning to play the piano, one might experience many other cycles, as when one learns a new technique or a new genre of music. The cycles relate to learning other subjects as well, such as algebra or reading or history. The cycles may move at very different tempos, and people may experience cycles within cycles. I often design a course to flow with the natural learning cycles that Whitehead describes. Within the same course, I can also design each session to follow the rhythms. All of this rhythmic teaching can be nested within a school’s comprehensive curriculum, which is similarly designed in rhythms.

What is important here is the heuristic value of these rhythms. They are one way to describe a natural pattern of learning; thus, they are valuable for designing educational processes that flow with natural rhythms rather than against them. Interestingly, these rhythms are analogous to other descriptions of meaningful engagement, such as the “flow experiences” described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which William Garland (2006, 88-100) develops in a Whiteheadian comparison. Garland relates both “flow experiences” and Whitehead’s rhythms to the learning of tennis, logic, or literature, while Pete Gunter uncovers the power of rhythmic education to shape the contours of environmental education (2006, 80-85). Combined with Whitehead’s accents on creativity and reason, and his discussion of educational rhythms between freedom and discipline (AE, 29-41), the rhythms we have been discussing remind teachers and learners alike that education is multi-faceted and multi-purposeful. The rhythms are also reminders that education has many moments of playfulness, discovery, tending to details, analyzing complexities, integrating, and constructing. Each of these moments needs to be respected and encouraged as part of the process.

2.4. Relationality

One educational accent of Whitehead deserves a warning sign as we approach it, not because of controversy but because of deceptive understandings; that is relationality. Relationships are commonly accented in education, but in less extensive ways than one finds in process philosophy. In educational literature, relationships are often encouraged among teachers, students and administrators, even with parents and the larger community. The focus is most often on interpersonal relations or on collaborations in educational projects. The Whiteheadian concept of relationality includes all of this, but is much more pervasive: everything in the universe is related to everything else. For this reason, we need to explore multiple forms of relationality in the educational process, for education nourishes (or impedes) and is nourished by (or impeded by) human relationships of every kind. These include, but are not limited by, our relations with: self, community and culture, people of difference, the earth, and social structures (Moore, 2006). In addition to the extensiveness of relationships important in Whiteheadian thought, we also need to attend to the quality of relations. If the entire universe is interrelated, one must recognize that some of these relations are more life-giving than others.

In developing these ideas, Whitehead himself is helpful in three significant ways. First, he addresses relationality as vital in the educational process, such as his accent on the purposes of education as duty and reverence (AE, 14). This view implies an intimate relation between education and community life, one that foreshadows Bernard Meland’s more extensive reflection on the educational values of moral consciousness and appreciative consciousness. Second, Whitehead accents relationality in his cosmology, or metaphysics, as an internal relationship of every becoming occasion with all that has been and is to come (PR, 309). This leads to a Whiteheadian conclusion, namely that the very act of knowing is relational. As a girl studies stars from a textbook, she is internalizing (more and less) the facts presented in the book, the form of that discourse (such as artistic or logico-mathematical), the teacher’s ways of presenting, the responses of other students, and her own experience or lack of experience in viewing stars. She is internalizing sights and sounds and smells that relate to stars, authority figures, community relationships, and many other conscious and unconscious bits of knowledge.

Whitehead’s epistemological claims are thoroughly relational, though he never fully develops these claims into a systematic epistemology. To elaborate, Whitehead argues that every entity has a subjective aim and some degree of mentality (however large or slight), which takes account of the world and makes a judgment regarding its final form. Further, all entities are physically connected with others, through physical inheritance over time. Such interconnections are bright threads of epistemic relation between emerging entities and their past. In the more macro picture of human life, people know as they harvest past riches of human experience in the world and engage in the interplay of feelings, ideas, and values that arise in those experiences, whether of fluttering breezes, geological epochs, historical records, scientific discoveries, political movements, poetry, or humanistic theories. They know when they intuit that which they cannot name and when they paint that which is beyond words. Their knowing finally transcends language and other forms of human expression. In simpler terms, Whitehead acknowledges, “Yet mothers can ponder many things in their hearts which their lips cannot express” (RM, 65).

The significance of a Whiteheadian light on relationality is that it illumines many aspects of relationality in education that are generally ignored. Without being conscious of it, Whitehead points the way for radical thinking that other educational theorists have developed within more limited scopes. John Dewey (1977, 1961) developed education in relation to students, interpersonal relations, and democratic social participation. Paulo Freire (1970) developed education in relation to students, local communities, and social structures. When others have directly engaged Whiteheadian ideas about relationality, they broaden the scope to include: relations within the self and with the cosmos (Moore 1998a; 1998b; 2006); collaborative relations among teachers, students, and their communities (Estrada, 2006); relations with local and national school systems (Riffert, 2005a, 411-433); and diverse forms of relations with the wonders of the world (Meland, 1953).

One fine example of engaging Whitehead ideas to stretch familiar ideas of relationality is found in John Bennett (2006), who argues that the popular United States educator Parker Palmer would benefit from a more adequate, thoroughly relational metaphysics. Palmer needs a larger view of relationships than one constructed in terms of objectivism or binaries. According to Bennett, human beings do not simply negotiate complexities conceived “as poles of opposites that we must hold in balance;” rather, people learn as they “convert the contraries and oppositions that Palmer calls paradoxes” into broader frameworks of fundamental relatedness and community (2006, 181). In more tangible language, a child learning to do geometry learns the complexities of lines, circles, and triangles interplaying with one another in the natural world and in the mathematical constructions of people who build buildings, measure earth surfaces, and paint pictures. Similar to Bennett’s dialogue with Palmer, I have queried Paulo Freire, suggesting that process ideas can stretch Freire’s liberative pedagogy to embrace more aspects of reality, more exploration of complexity, and more options for action (Moore 1998b, 186-190). Whether people gather in classrooms to study history or in community meetings to analyze an immediate situation, their alertness to relationality will encourage them to explore multiple dimensions of a situation. Such alertness can extend the range of their conscious knowing and their respect for complexities that they have not yet considered or included.

2.5. Rootedness

Of the qualities of education associated with Whitehead, the final one, rootedness, is the least often associated with his name in educational literature and popular imagination. Yet Whitehead valued the role of roots in teaching and learning, addressing these values explicitly at points and more often implicitly. Drawing upon his system of thought, one can say that teaching and learning are at their best when: (1) rooted in history, (2) rooted in local communities and systems, (3) rooted in the earth and neighboring eco-systems, and (4) rooted in Divine life or transcendent mystery.

This accent on roots complements the more obvious accents in Whitehead’s thought about education. It can sometimes be a corrective as well, especially when educators are tempted to consider creativity, reason, rhythms, or relationality as ends in themselves without further grounding. Each of these four is indeed a value in itself, but the relation among these values is the true genius of Whitehead’s work. The creative process is beautiful, for example, creating and expressing beauty at every turn. Novelty is a fresh gift that enables the world to transcend itself, which is not only a moment of beauty but can potentially contribute to an increase of beauty in a broken world. At the same time, creativity and novelty can be passing fads if they are not connected with creative processes and emergences of the past and if they do not amplify, break open, critique, reform, or radically transform the world as it is.

The theme of roots has been underplayed in the educational literature on Whitehead, but is important to contemporary educational discourse, which has returned once again to ardent discussions of “basics,” “fundamentals,” “principles,” “classics,” and other such substantive ways of conceptualizing the purposes and content of education. If basics, fundamentals, principles, and classics are viewed as substances, as in substantive philosophical discourse, they are not roots but fixed “givens.” Whitehead urged another approach. For example, he encouraged that educators approach the study of classics as they contribute to habits of thought and visions of past civilizations rather than teach them as the firm and unquestionable grounds for education (AE, 61-75). George Allan (2006) gives a rationale for this in Whitehead’s metaphysics, which is grounded in complex realities rather than abstractions. Allan can thus conclude that moral principles fall into Whitehead’s “fallacy of misplaced concreteness” (2006, 30; SMW, 51-55; PR, 7-8, 18).

Of course, anything that educators name as an educational fundamental can be overthrown or ignored as irrelevant, but the very act of claiming fundamentals produces problems. Such claims promote substantive thinking and obscure the dynamic character of the universe. The claims also set up a situation in which overthrowing or ignoring a set of previously declared fundamentals require oppositional debates between valuing and rejecting the traditions of a people. This approach threatens to underplay or overplay one part of the human-cosmic story in favor of another (e.g., the past in favor of the present or the present in favor of the future). What are needed are more holistic ways of thinking about education and the accumulating wisdom of humankind. Holistic thinking enables great discoveries and insights of the past to be rediscovered in new ways, to be rejected in part and reconstructed in part, or to be rejected radically in light of humanity’s continuing experience of the world.

Holistic patterns of thinking are helpfully represented by an organic metaphor. Roots are living things, emerging in the history of a plant and continuing to function and grow over time; thus, roots are highly suggestive for a Whiteheadian view of education. Basics, fundamentals, and classics are significant as living roots: they connect a plant to the wisdom of ages, both human and earth wisdom. At the same time, they are continually changing and growing. They are critical to human learning, for they embody the accumulating wisdom of the human race (Moore 1983, 176-178; 2005b). In exploring roots, one will also find embodiments that have been overlooked or actively suppressed by dominant educational leaders of the past. Further, new embodiments will continue to emerge and be constructed. Thus, the basics, fundamentals, principles, and classics of education will change through time. Like roots, they give life, but cannot be trapped in a small container in which they cannot spread and grow. A plant in a container too small for its roots will die, as will a tree that is trapped in soil and rocks that block its roots from seeking new sources of nourishment.

Consider the kinds of rootedness that Whitehead addresses. First, the idea that education is rooted in history seems obvious, but only certain subjects are routinely taught with historical contextualization or connections with past sources and influences. Why, for example, did human beings develop mathematics or astronomy? What in their immediate worlds and imaginations compelled people to think about numbers and stars, and how have these studies changed over time with accumulating knowledge and its complex interplay with cultural and intercultural patterns of relationship? Whitehead himself focuses fruitfully on mathematics in the history of thought (SMW, 19-37). We can also ask what in human political and economic history led to the development of certain kinds of scientific and social scientific knowledge and the neglect or under-development of other kinds of knowledge. Whitehead does not address such social history questions with more than occasional mentions, yet they are logical extensions of his urging to consider historical contexts.

Engaging historical roots in these diverse ways allows one to avoid the cultural predisposition to binary thinking about the past and future, posing them as oppositional and forcing educators to choose between teaching traditions and encouraging critical and creative thinking. Whitehead himself regularly analyzed historical patterns in pondering cosmological questions; he encouraged such work in education as well. Process educational theorists have similarly given attention to these matters; yet binary habits of thought persist and need to be revisited in the present era. I earlier argued this case, but the time to argue it again has re-emerged. Educators need to deny an “inverse relationship between continuity and change” (Moore 1983, 135). To maximize continuity is to maximize the potential for change; to maximize change is to maximize the potential for continuity. The relationship is synergistic rather than oppositional, fed by creative interweaving of past, present, and future in the educational process.

Whitehead’s accent on rootedness in local communities and systems is more indirect. While Whitehead understood that emergent entities are particularly shaped by dominant streams from the past, he did not extend his thinking to consider how human communities are profoundly shaped by their immediate human and ecological communities and systems. Later process educators have developed this accent in fruitful ways. Franz Riffert (2005a, 2005b) and his colleagues have collaborated with school systems in Austria to propose the reform of educational practice and assessment in relation to the local and national communities in which the schools exist. The Saskatchewan Process Philosophy Research Unit does similar collaboration in Saskatchewan, Canada, and beyond, conducting research, developing localized teaching experiments, and reflecting on these in light of process philosophy (Woodhouse, 2003). Another exemplar is Christelle Estrada (2006), who has developed models of teacher development in Salt Lake City, Utah, that are rooted in the city systems, school cultures, and teacher-student relationships.

Others have given attention to Whitehead’s metaphysics and its implicit and explicit revelation of the need for human communities to be rooted in the ecological patterns of local eco-systems, the earth, and the cosmos (Gunter, 2006; Cobb, 1992; Johnston, 1998; Moore, 1998a; 2000). In this ecological discourse, however, process educational thinkers have often focused on particular examples (such as Gunter, 2006) or on ecological analysis with allusions or brief expositions on educational practice (Moore, 1998a; 2000), but without sustained reconceptualization of education. At the same time, teachers and school administrators in Africa, the Pacific, North America and other parts of the world have been practicing ecological education for decades, with expanding efforts in recent years, motivated by the destruction of local ecologies and economies. Indigenous peoples have practiced such education for centuries. A few educational theorists, most notably Chet Bowers (1995), have done considerable research and theory-building based on ecological analysis and analysis of indigenous practices. Such work is highly compatible with process-relational thought; yet, the dialogue for mutual critique and enrichment has barely begun.

Receiving less attention is the fourth Whiteheadian accent on roots, namely educational rootedness in Divine life or, what I have called in a less religion-specific way, transcendent mystery. The argument for transcendence has been made in other areas of process thought, such as Franklin Gamwell’s emphasis on the metaphysical necessity of God for ethics. Gamwell argues that ethicists need a large metaphysical view of “the moral enterprise,” or they run the danger of emptiness (1990, 125), ignoring the implications of God in human experience, and missing the possibility of grounding ethical validity and human goals in something larger than human consensus (1990, 153, 183). In my recognition of religious diversity and contestation, alongside the complexities of mixing religion-talk with education-talk, I will lift an idea from Gamwell, but transpose it into a different language. One can argue that, as with ethics, education without a large view of the educational enterprise runs the danger of emptiness, ignores the human experience of wonder, and misses opportunities to engage people with the world’s largess and mysteries. The accumulated knowledge of humankind will inevitably be a limited explanation and expression of the universe that we contemplate; it will inevitably be partial knowledge, pointing beyond itself, by its very partiality and limits, to what human beings might discover and construct in the future, and even to the new mysteries they will encounter.

3. Imagining the Future

This discussion of Whitehead’s contribution to educational philosophy and practice draws many sources from the past and identifies significant dimensions of education. Underlying all of these is the value of existence, the value of Life. Whitehead understands existence as having “its own justification” and “its own character” (MT, 109). As George Allan (2004b) suggests, values are thus existential and aesthetic rather than pragmatic. A race well run is of value whether a runner wins or loses the race. I would say this about educational values. In the California Community College system there is a common, but striking, practice of accepting onto the track team anyone who wishes to do the sport. A runner who can barely complete the laps, but who finishes with a sense of team spirit and personal accomplishment may have contributed to the value of existence, whether in the form of personal worth, community inspiration, or simply performing an act that is preserved in the life of God or the memory of the universe. This idea suggests that the purposes of education are to investigate, value, preserve, and enhance existence, rather than to produce certain attainments, job opportunities, economic stability, or even democratic ideals.

Describing purposes in this way does not mean that pragmatic values are irrelevant; they are simply subordinate to the value of existence. Insofar as job opportunities, economic goals, and ideals for social and political relationships contribute to an increase in existential value, they need to inform education. Insofar as the same goals undermine existence, such as obscuring more significant values with a veneer of materialism or convincing people that their nation’s political organization is the only acceptable way, the educational goals need to be critiqued and reshaped. George Allen helpfully summarizes how evaluation fits with Whitehead’s aesthetics: “A value is relevant insofar as it contributes to the formation of other values, and it grows in importance as the scope of that relevance broadens and its intensity deepens” (2004, 284). Whitehead himself turns this discourse to education when he describes education as “guidance of the individual towards a comprehension of the art of life” (AE, 39). Educators might thus evaluate their values and goals in terms of how they do or do not enhance “habits of aesthetic apprehension,” or “the habit of enjoying vivid values” (SMW, 199, 200).

The qualities of education that I have explored in this essay are qualities that inspire aesthetic apprehension and vivid values. They enhance the existence of individuals (all individuals), communities (all communities), and the earth (the whole of the earth). The parenthetical phrases are important here. If education contributes to the well-being of an elite class of people while reinforcing class-prejudices and growing economic disparity on a global scale, it is undermining existence, rather than supporting and enhancing it. It is undermining the creative advance of the world, even though a few might benefit, and it is destroying the life-giving potential of relationships. On the other hand, education that shapes a new generation of intellectuals, craftspeople, factory workers, technocrats, homemakers, and trades people to delight in learning, to value the existence of others as well as themselves, and to contribute to creativity and value in the world will enhance the existence of the whole. Such education connects people with the creative powers of the universe and contributes to the creative advance of history. Such education is possible; it continues to beckon.

Works Cited and Further Readings

Allan, G. 2004. Higher Education in the Making: Pragmatism, Whitehead, and the Canon (Albany, S.U.N.Y. Press).

Allan, G. 2004b. “Ultimate Value,” Process Studies, 33, 2, 284-302.

Allan, G. 2005. “Solomon’s Dream and Whitehead’s Rhythm of Education,” Process Studies, 34, 2, 224-39.

Allan, G. 2006. “On Learning to be Good,” in A Different Three Rs for Education: Reason, Relationality, Rhythm, edited by George Allan and Malcolm D. Evans (New York, Rodopi B.V.), 27-42.

Allan, G. and Evans, Malcolm D. (eds.). 2006. A Different Three Rs for Education: Reason, Relationality, Rhythm (New York, Rodopi B.V.).

Bashor, P. S. 1991. “Process Philosophy of Education: Confluence and Construction,” in Readings in Process Philosophy and Education, edited by Malcolm Evans (St. Paul MN, Association of Process Philosophy of Education), 1-7.

Bennett, J. B. 2006. “Educational Spiritualities: Parker J. Palmer and Relational Metaphysics,” in A Different Three Rs for Education: Reason, Relationality, Rhythm, edited by George Allan and Malcolm D. Evans (New York, Rodopi B.V.), 169-83.

Bowers, C. A. 1995. Educating for an Ecologically Sustainable Culture: Rethinking Moral Education, Creativity, Intelligence, and Other Modern Orthodoxies (Albany, State University of New York).

Breuvart, J.-M. 2005 (ed.). Les rhythmes éducatifs dans la philosophie de Whitehead, Chromatiques Whiteheadiennes, Vol. 3 (Frankfurt, Ontos Verlag).

Brumbaugh, R. S. 1982. Whitehead, Process Philosophy, and Education (Albany, State University of New York).

Cobb, J. B., Jr. 1992. Sustainability: Economics, Ecology, and Justice (Maryknoll, NY, Orbis Press).

Dewey, J. 1977, 1938. Experience and Education (New York, Collier Books).

Doll, W. E., Jr. 1993. A Post-Modern Perspective on Curriculum (New York, Teachers College Press).

Estrada, C. 2006. “They Wear their Learning with Imagination,” in A Different Three Rs for Education: Reason, Relationality, Rhythm, edited by George Allan and Malcolm D. Evans (New York, Rodopi B.V.), 121-40.

Evans, M. 2005. “Process, Teaching, Learning,” Process Studies, 34, 2, 171-77.

Evans, M. 2006. “Reason: A Gift to Be Nurtured,” in A Different Three Rs for Education: Reason, Relationality, Rhythm, edited by George Allan and Malcolm D. Evans (New York, Rodopi B.V.),

Freire, P. 1970. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, translated by Myra Bergman Ramos (New York, Herder and Herder).

Gamwell, F. I. 1990. The Divine Good: Modern Moral Theory and the Necessity of God (Dallas, Southern Methodist University).

Garland, W. J. “Finding Flow through Discipline and Imagination,” in A Different Three Rs for Education: Reason, Relationality, Rhythm, edited by George Allan and Malcolm D. Evans (New York, Rodopi B.V.), 87-102.

Gunter, P.A.Y. 1995. “Bergson’s Philosophy of Education,” Educational Theory, 45, 3, 379-94.

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Author Information

Mary Elizabeth Moore
Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322

How to Cite this Article

Moore, Mary Elizabeth, “Education as Creative Power”, last modified 2008, The Whitehead Encyclopedia, Brian G. Henning and Joseph Petek (eds.), originally edited by Michel Weber and Will Desmond, URL = <>.