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  Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences

    Abraham H. Maslow

        Chapter VII.   Value-Free Education?

    These dichotomizing trends—making organized religions the guardian of all values, dichotomizing knowledge from religion, considering science to be value-free, and trying to make it so—have wrought their confusion in the field of education, too. The most charitable thing we can say about this state of affairs is that American education is conflicted and confused about its far goals and purposes. But for many educators, it must be said more harshly that they seem to have renounced far goals altogether or, at any rate, keep trying to. It is as if they wanted education to be purely technological training for the acquisition of skills which come close to being value-free or amoral (in the sense of being useful either for good or evil, and also in the sense of failing to enlarge the personality).
    There are also many educators who seem to disagree with this technological emphasis, who stress the acquisition of pure knowledge, and who feel this to be the core of pure liberal education and the opposite of technological training. But it looks to me as if many of these educators are also value confused, and it seems to me that they must remain so as long as they are not clear about the ultimate value of the acquisition of pure knowledge. Too often, it seems to me, pure knowledge has been given a kind of functionally autonomous, per se value, as was the case with Latin and Greek for young gentlemen and French and embroidery for young ladies. Why was this so? It was so because it was so, in the same way that someone recently defined a celebrity as one who is known for being known. These requirements may have had some functional validation long ago in their beginnings, but these reasons have long since been outgrown. This is an example of "functional autonomy" in Allport's sense: Knowledge has become independent of its origins, its motivations, its functions. It has become familiar and therefore self validating. It tends to persist in spite of being non-functional or even anti-functional, in spite of frustrating (rather than satisfying) the needs which first gave it life.
    Perhaps I can help to make my point clearer if I approach it from the other end, from the point of view of the ultimate goals of education. According to the new third psychology (See Appendix B), the far goal of education—as of psychotherapy, of family life, of work, of society, of life itself—is to aid the person to grow to fullest humanness, to the greatest fulfillment and actualization of his highest potentials, to his greatest possible stature. In a word, it should help him to become the best he is capable of becoming, to become actually what he deeply is potentially. What we call healthy growth is growth toward this final goal. And if this is the vectorial direction of education—the quarter of the compass toward which it moves, the purpose which gives it worth and meaning and which justifies it—then we are at once also supplied with a touchstone by which to discriminate good instruments from bad instruments, functional means from non-functional means, good teaching from bad teaching, good courses from bad courses, good curricula from bad curricula. The moment we can clearly distinguish instrumental goods from instrumental bads, thousands of consequences start to flow. (For the reasons that justify this as an empirical statement, see Appendix H.)
    Another consequence of this new insight into the highest human end-goals and end-values is that it holds for every living human being. Furthermore, it holds from the moment of birth until the moment of death, even from before birth and after death in some very real senses. And, therefore, if education in a democracy is necessarily seen as helping every single person-(not only an elite) toward his fullest humanness, then, in principle, education is properly a universal, ubiquitous, and life-long proposition. It implies education for all the human capacities, not only the cognitive ones. It implies education for feeble-minded people as well as intelligent ones. It implies education for adults as well as for children. And it implies that education is certainly not confined to the classroom.
    And now I think the point must be clear that no subject matter is a sacred and eternal part of any fixed-for-all-time curriculum, e.g., of liberal arts. Any of the subjects we teach can be wrong for someone. Trying to teach algebra to a moron is idiotic, so is music for the tone-deaf, and painting for the color-blind, and, perhaps, even the details of the impersonal sciences for the person-centered kind of person. Such efforts don't fit the particular person and, therefore, must be at least partially a waste of time.
    Many other kinds of educational foolishness are unavoidable by-products of current philosophical and axiological confusion in education. Trying to be value-free, trying to be purely technological (means without ends), trying to rest on tradition or habit alone (old values in the absence of living values), defining education simply as indoctrination (loyalty to ordained values rather than to one's own)—all these are value-confusions, philosophical and axiological failures. And inevitably, they breed all the value-pathologies, e.g., such idiocies as the four year college degree,[1] three-credit courses,[2] required courses from which there is no exception, etc.[3] Clarity of end-values makes it very easy to avoid these mismatchings of means and ends. The better we know which ends we want, the easier it is for us to create truly efficient means to those ends. If we are not clear about those ends, or deny that there are any, then we are doomed to confusion of instruments. We can't speak about efficiency unless we know efficiency for what. (I want to quote again that veritable symbol of our times, the test pilot who radioed back, "I'm lost, but I'm making record time.")
    The final and unavoidable conclusion is that education—like all our social institutions—must be concerned with its final values, and this in turn is just about the same as speaking of what have been called "spiritual values" or "higher values." These are the principles of choice which help us to answer the age-old "spiritual" (philosophical? religious? humanistic? ethical?) questions: What is the good life? What is the good man? The good woman? What is the good society and what is my relation to it? What are my obligations to society? What is best for my children? What is justice? Truth? Virtue? What is my relation to nature, to death, to aging, to pain, to illness? How can I live a zestful, enjoyable, meaningful life? What is my responsibility to my brothers? Who are my brothers? What shall I be loyal to? What must I be ready to die for?
    It used to be that all these questions were answered by organized religions in their various ways. Slowly these answers have come more and more to be based on natural, empirical fact and less and less on custom, tradition, "revelations," sacred texts, interpretations by a priestly class. What I have been pointing out in this lecture is that this process of a steadily increasing reliance on natural facts as guides in making life decisions is now advancing into the realm of "spiritual values." Partly this is so because of new discoveries, but partly it is so because more and more of us realize that nineteenth-century science has to be redefined, reconstructed, enlarged, in order to be adequate to this new task. This job of reconstruction is now proceeding.
    And insofar as education bases itself upon natural and scientific knowledge, rather than upon tradition, custom, the unexamined beliefs and prejudices of the community and of the conventional religious establishment, to that extent can I foresee that it, too, will change, moving steadily toward these ultimate values in its jurisdiction.



    1. "Isn't it a pity that my daughter left school in her senior year just before she finished her education?" (back)
    2. Professor Pangloss would have been delighted by the fact that all human knowledge happens to fall apart into exactly the same three-credit slices like the segments of a tangerine and that they all happen to last for exactly the same number of class hours. (back)
    3. "No man can call himself educated who doesn't know the Iliad (or constitutional law, or chemistry, or descriptive geometry, etc. etc.)." For that matter one college I went to refused to give a degree unless the student could swim. Another one required that I take freshman composition even though I had articles in Press for Publication. Faculty politics are silly enough to supply us with many more examples than we need. (back)

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Chapter VIII

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