Expanded Reason Congress – Round Table: “Education: a path towards meaning”.

Education: a path to meaning

John Slattery, Jennifer Wiseman and Curtis Baxter. Members of the Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion Program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and winners of the 5th Annual Expanded Reason Awards with Science for Seminarians.

James Arthur. Professor of Education, founding director of the Jubilee Centre for Character at the University of Birmingham and winner of the 4th edition of the Expanded Reason Awards with Teaching Character Virtues – A Neo-Aristotelian Approach.

The first roun table of the Congress has revolved around the reflection of an integral education. The moderator Antonio Sastre, philosopher and professor of humanistic education at the UFV, stated that open reason in the educational area is related to overcoming mere instruction and transmission of knowledge, aimed at accompanying the student on the path to fulfillment, developing all its dimensions to achieve happiness. An education, therefore, aimed at asking ultimate questions that affect the core of existence, since, although in the classroom there may be indifference, in the heart there is a longing for answers.

On the one hand, Curtis Baxter explained that from the beginning they have sought to involve different scientific communities to participate in the dissemination of topics that have some kind of relationship with ethics and religion. On the other hand, John Slattery has revealed that the beauty of the Science for Seminaries project lies precisely in the fact that its origin is not clerical, but scientific. In 2010 they established an agreement with the Association of Catholic Colleges that ran hundreds of seminars and sought to interact with science in a relevant way. They wondered if they could do something in favor of that dialogue and put them in contact with various Catholic advisors, including from other Christian denominations. After three years they received a grant to increase the project to the 54 seminaries they now have, up from the 10 seminaries they had initially, i.e., they had $75,000 per year to improve the curriculum of the seminarians in biblical studies, pastoral theology, etc., through workshops, retreats and other resources for dialogue with science. It is available on their website.

Regarding the formation of character in virtues, James Arthur, director of the Jubilee Centre, stated by videoconference from Edinburgh how they were preparing a series of projects following the fear of growing consumerism among young people, until they decided to develop the concept of character in the face of the dominant materialism. To do this, they relied on substantial private funding that allowed them to revisit Aristotle’s philosophy to explain why young people do not ask themselves about the ethics of the issues they face every day. James Arthur’s concern revolves around how to make virtues flourish in human beings, since he believes that good character is very important, both for individuals and for societies, and that it can be taught and inculcated. It aims to form individuals committed to the good of every human being in order to build a world worth living in, as well as to develop excellence from the approach of Aristotelian ethics. All with a triple structure: who we are, what we can become and how we get from point A to point B. This, approached in community and including all ethical dimensions. Thus, he explained that a good character has many advantages, since virtues make for a productive life that makes society healthier and are also universal because they are found in all human progress. 

In this sense, he wanted to clarify that educating in the character of virtue is not indoctrination nor does it imply a paternalistic, religious or conservative model, but rather a “virtual literacy” in knowledge, reasoning and practice. In his opinion, it is not enough to know more and more things because that does not change behavior, but it is necessary to reason about how and when to act well, since virtue makes it possible to express a desirable attitude within an intellectual, moral and civic framework.


Verónica Fernández, professor of Education at University Francisco de vitoria, has raised some questions from students who confront the big bang theory with the belief in a creator god. In her opinion, these doubts reveal the fragmentation of the student and the need to work on an integral and integrative teaching. He has advocated fostering dialogue between science teachers and philosophy and religion teachers to offer unified content and avoid presenting faith as a literal knowledge of the Bible that is incompatible with evolution. “It is a challenge to train teachers in the path of inspiration in the virtues by creating centers for transmitting this character to the classrooms,” he said.

In the discussion time, a call was made to strengthen the collaboration between science and faith so that reason can reach a more mature science. John Slattery gave the example of a group of American professors debating the notion of evolution. He revealed that they could only accept dialogue when they gave their views on ecology, creation and psychology. In his opinion, it is important not to be forced to understand, but to go deeper into the content in order to reach a deeper level.

The virtues are tools that help reasoning, according to J. Arthur, but it is necessary to integrate them with the intellectual ones so that reason is expanded; it is what he called the “practical wisdom of good sense”. Thus, the virtues make it possible to know, to desire and to act with good reasoning. All that is needed are intelligent and practical people who are leaders in their professions.

For her part, Verónica Fernández said that it is a challenge to educate in open reasoning because one educates as one has been educated and if one wants to improve, the teacher must be a master. This depends on how he looks at the person in front of him, who is not an object of content consumption, but someone with whom to establish a sapiential relationship. He also needs to be a point of reference, because a teacher is not just what he says, but an integral person with prestige, capable of welcoming his students and helping them to grow. In his opinion, for there to be unity in knowledge, several levels of the person must be taken into account, ranging from the set of atoms to the need for respect. The aim is to rethink the title of each subject in order to forge self-taught students who see in the other a brother or sister.

It was artist Etsuro Sotoo‘s desire to find the right question that led Curtis Baxter to say that good scientists should be brought into the classroom to raise questions about new models of thinking: how the brain works, climate change, evolution, sexual abuse, and so on. 

John Slattery added that, whether it is science or theology, the basic questions are similar and the conversations revolve around the same issues. James Arthur asked again what are the desires of human beings and took a stand against relativism and the loss of human nature. He considered that European humanism and Judeo-Christianity come together and fall apart very easily today with respect to anthropological issues. In his opinion, the decline of religion, the displacement of philosophy by psychology and the emergence of constructivism have been determining issues. She advocated recovering the idea of a human nature that can be understood through many perspectives such as philosophy, psychology, the arts…, just by making knowledge centered on human flourishing fashionable.

Verónica Fernández added that the UFV’s pedagogical model (awakening, discovering, deciding) is especially aimed at students who are only concerned about the exam and do not seek to enrich themselves with wisdom. It is based on the relationship: of the professor with other professors, of the professor with the student and of the students with each other. It is about asking pertinent questions and seeking answers together, crystallizing in decisions that lead to personal growth. To this end, the communities of Expanded Reason seek to bring to the attention of all, the questions of the different subjects in order to extend their conclusions to an interdisciplinary field.

Along with this, dismantling scientistic prejudices is also a way of opening horizons in the formation of future clerics. John Slattery pointed out that there are so many scientists involved in the project that the results of the interaction have been very fruitful. Curtis Baxter pointed out that in the end it doesn’t matter whether the scientist has faith or not, because the only important thing is whether they are willing to cooperate.

As we have seen, Expanded Reason means openness to all dimensions of the subject. James Arthur explained that teaching must awaken to true education, therefore, it is not just textbook knowledge or transmission of information, but must involve transformation. Education is not what the student knows, but what the student has become during the process of opening to knowledge.

From the Faculty of Education, Verónica Fernández recalled that if education is a challenge, it is because it involves human freedom. On this point, she affirmed that accompaniment is one of the most appropriate strategies to be close to the student in times of difficulty, and she bet on continuing to strengthen the mentoring system that assigns a mentor to each student for personalized follow-up.

In the question and answer session, it was asked to what extent it is important to distinguish between compelling or respecting. Slattery responded that there is no perfect solution, but rather a combination of subjects: “It is a debate about what is considered essential at the disciplinary level and the limits of such teaching,” he said. In his opinion, the key is to generate spaces to put into play the existing issues, in fact, in the project of the seminars they start from a basic education, but then it has been observed that other subjects arise that do not entail a regulated context.

Regarding the virtues that every educator must have, these are part of the path of those who seek the greatest good, according to Veronica Fernandez, who at the same time intuited them in the form of a cluster. Arthur specified that he expects all educators to be honest and sincere, to have compassion, interest and respect for the students. He even added that education is influenced by architecture and environment, so the teacher’s code of conduct should include humility and truth.

Regarding students who may approach with a hostile attitude or some resistance to open reason, Slattery presented research being conducted in some biology classrooms in the USA on how devoting a portion of the class to recognizing that there are two different points of view changes the environment, because the mere fact of recognizing that there was one group with one theory and another group with another positively influenced the results. Arthur recommended the book “The Closing of the American Mind,” which talks about open-minded students who are not able to establish a judgment on anything, overly sensitive to so many issues. He confessed that these same young people do not realize that they are looking for something more, a deeper participation in society, and that if a student is closed, he or she cannot be trained, not even in technical knowledge.

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