Ethics, Place and Environment,Vol. 8, No. 3, 285–307, October 2005Martin Buber: Educatingfor Relationship1SEAN BLENKINSOPSimon Fraser University, Burnaby, CanadaABSTRACT This paper proposes that contained within Martin Buber’s works one can find usefulsupport for, and insights into, an educational philosophy that stretches across, and incorporates,both the human and non-human worlds. Through a re-examination of his seminal essayEducation2, and with reference to specific incidents in his autobiography (e.g. the horse, hisfamily, the theatre and the tree) and to central tenets of his theology (e.g. the shekina, theEternal Thou and teshuvah) we shall present a more coherent understanding of Buber’s notionof relationship which is developmental in nature and posits intrinsic, necessary and unavoidablerelational ties to both the human and non-human worlds. This understanding of Buber’sview of relationship as a developmental process will add new meaning to his central ideasof ‘bursting asunder’ the educational relationship and the educator who is cast ‘in imitatioDei absconditi sed non ignoti’.3 Ultimately this paper wants to suggest that, for Buber, the infantis unable to become fully adult without being immersed in relationship and then coming tofull awareness of it, and it is the educator who can play a pivotal role in supporting thedevelopment of this adult relationality through encounters with both individual humans andthe larger non-human world.Introduction After a descent during which I had to utilize without a halt the late light of a dying day, I stood on the edge of a meadow, . . . I pressed my stick against a trunk of an oak tree. Then I felt in twofold fashion my contact with being: here, where I held the stick, and there, where it touched the bark. Appearing to be only where I was, I nonetheless found myself there, too, where I found the tree. At that time dialogue appeared to me. (Buber, 1964, p. 47)Near the end of his life, Martin Buber, in conversation with Carl Rogers, regrettednot having discussed relationship beyond the one-on-one human interaction, and hereferred specifically to our relationship with nature (Buber, 1965, pp. 166–184).However, Buber’s writings and his autobiography are copiously sprinkled withCorrespondence Address: S. Blenkinsop, Faculty of Education, Simon Fraser University, 8888 UniversityDrive, Burnaby, BC V5A 1S6. Canada. Email: email@example.comX Print/1469-6703 Online/05/030285–23 ß 2005 Taylor & FrancisDOI: 10.1080/13668790500348232
286 S. Blenkinsopreferences, encounters and key developmental moments with that more than humanworld. These encounters in many ways became the triggers for Buber’s insightsinto relationship and education. Buber’s goal of a more thoughtfully relationalworld parallels many of the purported ‘relationship building’ goals of environmental,experiential or outdoor education. Yet many of those same programmes oftenbemoan what they perceive as limited change in those relationships by pointing tolimited change in the students’ behaviour, for example. I believe Martin Buber’sunderstanding of relationship as being a developmental process offers insight intothis challenge, as well as a possible direction for educators and philosophers to beginto consider, if we are to begin to build better and presumably more sustainablerelationships amongst humans and between humans and their natural environment. But in order to fully expose this insight we must explore Buber’s religious writings.Educators and educational theorists have tended to ignore the religious writings andfocus upon the educational writings (e.g. Education and Education of Character) andhis major examination of his philosophy of dialogue in I and Thou (Buber, 1970).4It is through that exploration that we will be better able to understand Hasidism, thebelief system so fundamental to his life, and as a result better understand Buber’seducational work, resolve some of the inconsistencies which seem to appear betweenthe educational interpretation of Buber and the religious Buber and make realconnections between his work and the practical work of supporting studentsin building relationships with their world. I am proposing to re-examine the essay Education in the light of Buber’s biographyand his Hasidism. Thus, the first section of this paper will focus on his biography,predominantly three moments of deep encounter with the natural world that seemimportant, as triggers, to his relational development. The second section will focuson three key ideas, shekina, teshuvah and shiflut, drawn directly from Buber’sunderstanding of Hasidism. The third section, in examining the Primitive Thou, theI/Thou and the I/Eternal Thou, will offer a more complete groundwork for whatappears to be a relational developmentalism. These three sections will then provideus with adequate grounding for the fourth section, which will offer a newinterpretation of Education and add to the idea of relationship building and aptitudeas being developmental that I have discussed in previous work (Blenkinsop, 2004a,b). The hope is that this discussion will assist educators and theorists not only inunderstanding Buber, by offering a theoretical underpinning to relationship, but alsoin the real process of developing relationship with students. Beyond this is the hopethat this discussion will confirm, or ignite, the recognition that the world beyond thehuman sphere is a necessary component of becoming more fully human and offersome insight into how that process of relational development occurs.Animal, Mineral and Vegetable: Becoming Martin BuberBuber’s autobiographical, theological and relational writings are littered withexperiences and examples of relation with the more than human world. This sectionwill present three specific instances, one each from childhood, early adulthood andmaturity, which Buber himself pointed to as being pivotal to understanding himselfas relational and to expanding his theoretical work. There are many other examples,beyond these three, that could be drawn upon, including literature, the theatre,
Martin Buber: Educating for Relationship 287marriage and a myriad more animals, vegetables and minerals. The developmentof a theory of relationship follows quite closely the steps that Buber followed in hisown life and relies heavily on his experiences with caregivers and the worldaround. The challenges of the intellect, the importance of the word, the experience ofmysticism and of its limitations and the recognition that he belonged to the realworld, but with the potential to reach out to God through the Eternal Thou, weresignificant encounters on his educational journey to his mature work. This sectionwill provide an initial sense of the developmental process of relationship that wasso influential in Buber’s own education. At age 11 Buber had an encounter that was fundamental to his understandingof Thou and Eternal Thou. He tells of sneaking into his grandparents’ barn in orderto stroke a horse, and continues: [I] felt the life beneath my hand, it was as though the element of vitality itself bordered on my skin, something that was not I, was certainly not akin to me, palpably the other, not just another, really the Other itself; and yet it let me approach, confided itself to me, placed itself elementally in the relation of Thou and Thou with me. (Buber, 1967, p. 38)For Buber this moment became even more significant, because he recognized that theexperience ceased the instant he became conscious of his own hand. It is early experiences such as this, coming as moments of clarity and a profoundsense of connection, which Buber will remember as he builds his philosophy ofrelationship. As we shall see later, Buber came to realize that this experience withthe horse was in fact a moment of relation between I 5 and the Eternal Thou,a moment of discovery that each human has the ability and responsibility to connectwith the more than human temporal world and make it sacred by raising it into theeternal. Thus the relation of I/Thou becomes an existence encompassing both I andThou but existing between two individuals and ‘imitates’, in a human way, theI/Eternal Thou which is the desired relationship of humanity and Buber’s God.This is also why Buber’s recognition of ‘his’ hand destroys the relationship becausehe tries to contain something within I that only exists between I and Thou. In his essay Education, Buber discussed his sense that each human comes equippedwith an instinct for communion and that it is up to the educator to both sanctionthat instinct and provide opportunities for it to flourish. Buber called this ‘inclusion’,which, unlike empathy, ‘does not mean giving up one’s own side of the relationship’.The ability to see the other, understand and embrace6 the other without giving up theself is the true penetration of being, true dialogue, the I/Thou (Buber, 1969, p. 12).It is this skill of inclusion that we will see repeated as we examine the educator’srole in the asymmetrical relation. As an educated young adult Buber found himself sought after to answer questionsof importance to his community. He was overwhelmed by the seeming responsibilityand, remembering some of his childhood encounters with the natural world,he turned towards mystical scholasticism as a possible source of understanding.The story that Buber tells most often with respect to the mystical experiencecomes from his book Daniel.
288 S. Blenkinsop On a gloomy morning I walked upon the highway, saw a piece of mica lying, lifted it up and looked at it for a long time; the day was no longer gloomy, so much light was caught in the stone. And suddenly as I raised my eyes from it, I realized that while I looked I had not been conscious of ‘object’ and ‘subject’; in my looking the mica and ‘I’ had been one; in looking I had tasted unity. (Buber, 1964, p. 140)This moment of unity between the temporal realm and God’s eternal realm, whichBuber saw as an ecstatic moment, is a moment of relationship that arrives, unforced,as a blinding insight for the individual. For Buber this moment can precipitate themore conscious search for relationship in the world. I looked at it [the mica] again, the unity did not return. But there it burned in me as though to create. I closed my eyes, I gathered my strength, I bound myself with my object, I raised the mica into the kingdom of the existing. And there, . . . I first was I. (Buber, 1964, p. 140) Buber lost the ecstatic sense of unity because, as with the awareness of his ownhand in the episode of the horse, he began to reflect consciously and returned to thesense of the objective ‘I’, but because of having been through the experience therehad been a change in the relationship between himself and the mica. Buber saw theobject, in this case the mica, as ‘hallowed’, made sacred, as if it has been gildedthrough the ecstatic experience. From now on the gilded object can act as a portalback into the I/Thou moment and beyond into the I/Eternal Thou, where theindividual first discovered I. That is to say first discovered the new I, the I inrelationship. Buber believed that there is a moment of insight and revelation whenthe individual becomes conscious, and this implies consciousness of oneself inrelationship with God through His temporal immanence. The ecstatic momentand the I/Thou and I/Eternal Thou implicit therein provide the insight that is ableto propel the individual into the process of ‘turning’ into the conscious process ofbecoming oneself. Thus, the individual becomes engaged in several parallel projectsof unification at once. He is unifying the self by consciously making it coherent withrespect to his own project whilst also, through relationship, unifying all within thetemporal realm, a unity Buber calls tikkun,7 in order to make it coherent with respectto God. This idea will influence our understanding of both the role of the teacher andthe project of humanity as we examine Education. Looking back on his life Buberwould suggest that this mystical process of self-examination and self-reflection wasa phase he had to go through in order to become himself. This theme of personaldevelopment, of building towards a more unified I, is a constant theme throughoutmuch of existential philosophy; what Buber is adding is relationship. The I becomesmore I through the conscious engagement with, and search for, relationship not onlywith other individuals, but also with the more than human world beyond and,ultimately, aims to reunite the temporal with the eternal in full relationship with theEternal Thou. However, Buber’s encounters with the non-human did not end when he lefthis mystical phase behind. They continued to occur and offer insight throughout his
Martin Buber: Educating for Relationship 289adult life for both his philosophy of relationship and his life. His writing, bothbiographical and philosophical, continued to offer numerous moments of encounter.As an older man Buber described encounters with a tree outside his window and witha cat in his study and of how they helped him to understand more clearly thepure other and to ‘perceive a breath of the Eternal Thou’ (Buber, 1970, p. 150).‘What I encounter is neither the soul of the tree nor a dryad, but the tree itself ’(Buber, 1970, p. 59). ‘The domesticated animal has not . . . received the gift of the‘‘eloquent’’ glance from us, . . . what it has from us is only the ability . . . to turn thisglance upon us brutes’ (Buber, 1970, p. 145). It is moments such as these, in fulladulthood, that reminded Buber of the voice of the Eternal Thou within each possibleencounter and which lead us on to discuss his Hasidism in order to better understandthat voice.Shekina, Teshuvah and Shiflut: Key Concepts from Buber’s HasidismHasidism was the life-blood of Buber’s understanding of reality and to ignore it isto compromise what Buber has to offer education. He acknowledged that by 1905,after his movement through and out of mysticism, ‘the Hasidic tradition had grownfor me into the supporting ground of my own thinking’ (Buber, 1967, p. 118). Thepurpose of this section is to draw several issues out of Buber’s Hasidic writing thatwill help us to understand both the connections he made to biographical encountersand the presence of his religious ideas in his essay Education. It is useful to rememberthat, although the religious language may seem challenging, the goal is to translateBuber’s understanding into a useful educational philosophy and not to proselytizefor a religious position. The first Hasidic concept we will examine is the shekina,which might in fact be the conceptual reason for Buber’s focus upon relationship andhis understanding thereof.Shekina: The Divine Indwelling No thing can exist without a divine spark. (Buber, 1958a, p. 49) The sparks which fell down from the primal creation into the covering shells and were transformed into stones, plants, and animals. (Buber, 1958a, p. 37)The Hasidic concept of the shekina recalls an Ojibwa story. Once upon a time theworld was black, without any colour. The only exception was during rainstormswhen the sun shone and two perfect, parallel rainbows would appear. Now, ofcourse, the animals and plants were intrigued by this brilliant colour and so one dayRaven decided to investigate and flew off towards the rainbows. Raven ended upflying too close and managed to fly into the upper rainbow, shattering it into aninfinite number of pieces which cascaded all over the Earth transforming everythingthey landed upon. This is why there is colour on the Earth, why Raven remains blackand why, on some perfect rainbow days, you can see the remains of a second rainbowjust above the first.
290 S. Blenkinsop There are two aspects to Buber’s God. The first, like the intact rainbow, isGod’s own eternal completeness that exists ‘above’, whilst the second is the‘shattered’ unity, the shekina, the ‘exiled glory of God’ (Buber, 1958a, p. 81) that isspread out in little pieces within each and every animal, vegetable and mineral on thistemporal Earth, and that piece of the shekina ‘burns’ within each one. In Hasidismpeople are responsible for finding, drawing forth and ‘re-connecting’ these scatteredpieces and they must approach every object with the intent of uncovering thatspark, uniting it with their own and, ultimately, uniting all the sparks and returningthem to God. This is the process of consciously turning ourselves intorelationship with the Eternal Thou, of hearing the voice of the spark within and ofreaching out to embrace and connect with each spark-filled entity we encounter.In many ways this is the process, in less poetic terms, we will see the teacher imitatingas she/he thoughtfully reaches out to engage each student and creates the worldwhich surrounds them in the hope that they will hear the voice of relationshipshe/he is offering and decide to turn themselves towards that voice. Once the processof trying to engage in relationship has begun this will help students to both see andtake the risk to begin the project of becoming an I. Unfortunately, sparks can behidden through both ignorance and choice, and this creates a prison, a shell,around people. The sparks are to be found everywhere. They are suspended in things as in sealed-off springs; they stoop in the creatures as in walled-up caves, they inhale darkness and they exhale dread; they wait. (Buber, 1958a, p. 103)‘The good is held captive in the shells’ (Buber, 1958a, p. 221) and, as happened whenBuber experienced the mica, the spark is released through the genuine encounteringof the other. At that moment of insight and connection dialogue is occurring. Thismeans there is good, ‘that of God within’, in everyone and even if the spark isencased in a thick shell, our challenge is to break through and release it. If at first youdon’t succeed, try harder, use more love. Buber saw self-deception as one of the key components in creating these prisonsthat become major obstacles to one’s chosen direction, and it is precisely this thatelicits the voice of relationship and, if heard, can lead to insight. This voice parallelsGod’s question to Adam: ‘Where art Thou?’ You yourself are Adam, you are the man whom God asks: ‘Where art thou?’ . . . In so asking, God does not expect to learn something he does not know; . . . he wants to produce an effect in man which can only be produced by just such a question, provided it reaches man’s heart. . . . Adam hides himself to avoid rendering accounts to escape responsibility for his way of living. . . . This question is designed to awaken man and destroy his system of hideouts; it is to show man to what pass he has come and to awake in him the great will to get out of it. (Buber, 1958a, p. 134)God originally calls out to Adam and Eve, not because he can’t find two peoplehiding in the bushes, but to have us recognize that we are all hiding. It is the look
Martin Buber: Educating for Relationship 291of Buber’s cat, the call of ‘Where art thou?’ that acts as a trigger to initiate the processof self-examination and to determine what point one has reached in theproject of self-realization. But the voice of the Eternal Thou, although ever present,is not ‘a thunderstorm which threatens man’s very existence; it is a ‘‘still small voice’’and easy to drown’ (Buber, 1958a, p. 134). In many ways Buber’s idea of shekina, as it relates to the teaching/learningsituation, has shifted the onus onto the teacher to continue to seek the good withinall students. It is not acceptable to simply assume any particular student is ‘all bad’and walk away; the challenge is developing the ‘love’ which will help to come tounderstand the student and get through his shell. Believing there is good within allwill also change the way we encounter our students and increase our responsibilitytowards them. The individual cannot hide from the world nor shun others, for thetask of humankind is to seek out the shekina and form connections. Buber saw this asAvoda, ‘the service of God in time and space’ (Buber, 1958a, p. 84), and it is throughservice that individuals can bind together. He who lives with others in this way realizes with his deed the truth that all souls are one; for each is a spark from the original soul, and the whole of the original soul is in each. (Buber, 1958a, p. 121)This binding occurs both in a temporal way, as a community consciously comestogether, and in an eternal way, as released sparks re-form the shekina. Baal–Shemtells a story of a man who could see a beautiful bird at the top of a tree and, althoughno one else could see it, the people came together to form a human ladder in order toretrieve the bird (Buber, 1958a). If any one of them had not been involved, the taskwould have failed. Just as the task of coming to God through the shekina involveseveryone serving that goal, so too Buber’s idea of community requires a commongoal and the involvement of all as distinct individuals. In this way ‘help is no virtue,but an artery of existence’ (Buber, 1958a, p. 120). It is in this way that the teacherbecomes responsible for both genuine leadership and genuine community. Manytimes the teacher sees the ‘bird’ and it is up to her/him to have the students releaseit as their common goal. The teacher in the classroom is immersed in the real world, what Buber mightcall ‘God’s immediacy’, and knows that awareness only occurs when students openthemselves to one another and to the world around. The teacher’s job is very muchthat of facilitating those relationships, that dialogue, and thus of helping to bringtogether the broken rainbow that is the shekina.Teshuvah: ConversionEarlier we discussed Buber’s personal experience of ‘conversion’, the moment whenhe abandoned mysticism and became the advocate of existence and the philosopherof dialogue. However, Buber used the word conversion in a very specific way:conversion signified a total reorientation of one’s existence that is not instantaneousbut is an ongoing process involving hard, thoughtful work. True dialogue,relationship, requires both grace, since it can’t be simply willed into existence,
292 S. Blenkinsopand that the other person also enter the relationship. It also requires the individualto struggle with and to create himself and to do this consciously and purposefully,i.e. with intention, kavana.8 In today’s culture we love the stories of reformation: the poor man on drugs,destroying his life and living on the street, who has a blinding insight and changesinto the upstanding father and paragon of virtue; the lost woman, living fast andloose, who crashes her sports car and walks away, literally and metaphorically,to become an aid worker. This is the stuff of Hollywood legend and, forBuber, dangerously models the Christian conversion that he thinks makes thedifficult project seem too easy. Teshuvah, on the other hand, involves an individualwho, through self-awareness, understanding, effort and commitment, transformsa hitherto pointless existence into a life directed to a meaningful goal. Thistransformation Buber calls ‘turning’. Turning is capable of renewing a man from within and changing his position. . . . But turning means here something much greater than repentance and acts of penance; it means that by a reversal of his whole being, a man who had been lost . . . finds . . . a way to the fulfillment of the particular task. (Buber, 1958a, p. 164)Teshuvah can’t happen without God’s presence, but it doesn’t happen accidentally.Grace occurs precisely because one is consciously opening oneself to it. One cannotwill or force the I/Thou relationship into existence; grace must be present, but onecan prepare for it by means of deliberate thought and effort. Buber’s point, whentranslated to educators, is that the idea of instantaneous change happeningmiraculously is troublesome because it removes thoughtful intention, preparationand awareness from the process. In some ways it absolves the teacher and theindividual of responsibility for change. Buber agreed that the moment of change, orthe moment of insight, can’t be forced into existence and must come from and to thestudent, as if by grace, but that does not mean that we do nothing to prepare, to setthe stage consciously for when the moment arrives. It is important for educators to understand that, for Buber, God’s relationship toany individual parallels that of the teacher and the student. The educator is set in the‘imitatio Dei absconditi sed non ignoti’ [imitation of a God hidden but notunknown] (Buber, 1968a, p. 103) and so, by removing the religious language, we findsome educational guidelines. The teacher must always be present, be availableand reaching towards the student, proffering relationship, even if the student isuninterested, unwilling or unable to consciously accept it. This is equally asimportant before the moment of insight as it is thereafter, when the student maybegin certain tentative conscious responses. But the turning, the choosing, must comefrom the student, just as God allows humans to choose. The process is not magical;the teacher pushes, supports and challenges in whichever direction he thinks ismost helpful, while the student prepares, builds intention and the fervor which willsustain him or her throughout the project. This process of taking up one’s ownbecoming, of consciously engaging in one’s own project, requires the continualsupport of the relationships in which we are immersed, but it also requires enormous
Martin Buber: Educating for Relationship 293personal commitment and deepening personal insight. For the educator engagedin the challenge of his own journey and supporting that of others there is a profoundneed for humility.Shiflut: Humility He is truly humble who feels the other as himself and himself in the other. (Buber, 1958a, p. 113)Every individual is unique, and that uniqueness is ‘the essential good of man that isgiven to him to unfold . . . in his own way’ (Buber, 1958a, p. 111). Buber’s notionof humility is the ability to be oneself in one’s own uniqueness: ‘the haughty man isnot he who knows himself, but he who compares himself with others’ (Buber, 1958a,p. 113). Humility is about becoming from within and translating that understandingof self into action. Every individual can fulfil his task, thus all individuals are equallyimportant. When a child claims she/he, for example, is the best runner, she/he isdisplaying haughtiness, unless she/he means by that that she/he is the best runnershe/he can be, that she/he is striving to do better than herself/himself and ‘overcome’her/his own best time. For Buber, this is humility: the man who presumes too much is the man who contrasts himself with others, who sees himself as higher than the humblest of things, who rules with measure and weights and pronounces judgment. . . . In him who is full of himself there is no room for God. (Buber, 1958a, p. 114)For educators this concept of shiflut raises challenges the very basis of our currentpractices. If we are to teach and work in humility within our own projects andhonour the projects of our students we must recognize that when a student decidesto take up the challenge of her/his own becoming, it is not because we have madeher/him do so. She/he has decided, possibly through the experiences we havemade possible for her/him, to turn herself/himself towards relationship. Beyond thatit is humility that supports teachers as they shoulder the responsibility of formingI/Thou relationships with students, monitor each individual project, deal with theirown self-deceptions and avoid the possibility of propaganda that Buber so wiselywarns us about in his essay Education.Primitive Thou, I/Thou and I/Eternal Thou: Buber’s Relational DevelopmentalismThe mature Buber believed that life is relationship and he began I and Thou withhis primary distinction, the ‘two-fold attitude’, I/It versus I/Thou. Man can treat the world . . . as an ‘It’—an orderly, comprehensible collection of things of objects to be experienced and used . . . . When we behold what confronts us in the world, we deal with it by treating it as an object which can be compared and assigned a place in an order of objects, described
294 S. Blenkinsop and analyzed objectively, filed away in our memory to be recalled when needed. (Buber, 1970, p. 90) The I/It relationship lacks mutuality and takes place within the individual,thereby separating subject from object, and not ‘between’ the individual and theother. The I/It relationship objectifies and alienates the world that Buber believedmust be revered and related to. As we have seen, every individual is responsible forconnecting with the ‘spark’ within everything, both for the unification of the shekinaand because only in saying ‘Thou’ does the I truly come into being. In adoptingthe ‘I/Thou’ attitude we are to enter the world of relation, a world characterized bymutuality, directness, presentness, intensity and ineffability’ (Friedman, 1956, p. 95;Hendley, 1978, p. 141). Buber saw I/Thou paradoxically, as existing outside time and space, since it occursin ‘the actual and fulfilled present’ (Buber, 1970, p. 63) but lacks the detached I thatplaces the encounter into either time or space. However, this does not mean thatBuber is advocating a complete removal of the I/It. I/It and I/Thou operate inconcert and both have necessary functions, since we are living in a temporal worldand it is impossible to sustain oneself in the non-temporal. Everything happens inreality and although there are moments when one glimpses the eternal, raises oneselfand the other into relationship with God, who is the Eternal Thou, the self continuesto exist in the here and now. Buber simply wants to refute the priority we give to theI/It to the exclusion of I/Thou because, for him, that is the wrong path to take tothe self. The I is different when it occurs in the I/It and the I/Thou, since I/Thou is notwithin but ‘between’, which makes I a mutual construction rather than an internalconsciousness. For Buber the human is responsible for the temporal, however,I/Thou occurs ‘in between’ and offers insight into the eternal through encounteringthe other, entering relationship and engaging in dialogue. The self is illuminatedthrough history, personal work and the process of dialogue. A reality in whichrelationship and dialogue exist between the individual and other people and betweenthe individual and the world beyond is neither completely within nor completelyoutside the individual; it is what Buber meant by I/Thou and, ultimately, theI/Eternal Thou. In his essay Distance and Relation Buber (1951) began to explore how humanrelations develop. He maintained that all children are born with the ability to relatewhich, in the essay Education, he called the instinct for communion (Buber, 1968a,p. 91). Very early children learn the ‘primal setting at a distance’, i.e. they learnto separate themselves from objects, thereby creating an It. Thereafter follows the‘entering into relation’. This means that relational ability, some form of Thou, mustbe present before I/It, since ‘setting at a distance’ implies distance from something,this initial form of Thou Buber calls the Primitive Thou. Buber believed that childrenarrive as the ‘innate Thou’ (Buber, 1970, p. 78), with the ability for formingrelationships in ‘natural association’ (Buber, 1970, p. 76) and only later does theneed to distance oneself appear. This childhood ability to relate provides the‘pre-reflective’ support that enables the more conscious adult to return torelationship at a later time in life. Thus, all children are born in relation and need
Martin Buber: Educating for Relationship 295to ‘regain/return’ to I/Thou consciously after ‘setting at a distance’ the world.‘The process of becoming . . . is the movement between the attitude of I/Thou to I/Itand back to I/Thou’ (Koo, 1964, p. 114). Buber claimed that, through such things as technology, science and institution-alization, today’s world is in a situation of ever increasing ‘I/It-ness’, moving fartherfrom relation. Though we live constantly within potential reach of the Thou and it is,as Buber said, always ‘coming towards us and touching us’, yet we ‘have becomeinept and uneager for such living intercourse’ (Buber, 1970, p. 92). However, there ishope, since ‘all of these Thou’s which have been changed into It’s have it in theirnature to change back again into presentness’ (Friedman, 1960, p. 63), a changewhich can be accomplished by learning again to revere the world and its objects. Inclusion, as Buber realized when watching the great Burgtheatre actors, meansthat two things must come together; it means coming to know one another instrengths and weaknesses, necessities and possibilities, and not losing the self.Empathy, on the other hand, involves the individual ‘becoming’ the other and losingoneself. It is in dialogue that I is discovered and deepened, because the other,knowing our actuality and our project, can act as a mirror, a supporter and achallenger; the other is able to ask ‘where art Thou?’ However, relationship requireseffort and confirmation. To confirm9 someone, which Buber failed to do in the caseof the young visitor who committed suicide, is to encounter him in his ownconcreteness, and it occurs through ‘making present’, which ‘means to imagine quiteconcretely what another . . . is wishing, feeling, perceiving, and thinking . . . it isthrough this . . . that we grasp another as a self’ (Friedman, 1956, p. 97). For Buber, the advent of the adult relationship and of the thoughtful engagementwith the I/Thou is not an end but another step on the path of lifelong conversion.The process of bringing the actual self into alignment with the self that is aimed at,as possibility, is a path that the individual must choose to take and that requiresa continual process of ongoing self-realization. This self-realization happensthrough continuing relationship with others, increasing awareness of the EternalThou and thoughtful community building and is practically manifest as individualstake up their responsibilities both for building community (e.g. the shekina) andbecause they recognize that the I only becomes clearer as more members areembraced. The I/Thou is experienced in those moments when we rise above the temporaland catch sight, however momentarily, of what Buber called the ‘Eternal Thou’.The briefest glimpse of God’s immanence, the momentary apprehension of shekina insome everyday object, is an opportunity for us to be aware of the Eternal Thou. Justas art or literature is the ‘word’ of the artists, the sign or symbol of their I/Thouwhich they offer to us and which can, at times, cause us to reach out and encounterthe creator behind the word, so too is the mediated classroom the ‘word’ of theteacher and the natural object the ‘word’ of God, the sign of the Eternal Thou which,if we open ourselves to it, lets us enter into relationship with the Eternal Thou thatis always present in the world around us. However, coming to know this is not‘a reward’ but the destination for one in the process of purifying his heart, clearingout imperfections and discovering ever present goodness. God is continually presentand this ‘discovery’ is our revelation.
296 S. Blenkinsop Thus, I, I/Thou and I/Eternal Thou are inextricably related. A child is born withthe innate ability to form I/Thou relationships, but also to encounter the I/EternalThou. However, the three realms do not consciously develop in concert. The I beginsto take shape through encounters with thoughtful, conscious caregivers who providethe relationship that allows the child to explore. The child also begins to discover theIt as she/he begins to learn how to navigate within the objective world, at leastpartially provided by the educator, internalizing her/his particular historical, social,cultural and economic reality. However, if the child only discovers the I/It withoutthe I/Thou, she/he receives a dangerously non-mutual notion of I, since tools,animals and even humans become mere objects without dialogue and the whisper ofpossibility. This world of the I/It becomes just objects of knowledge, of religiousdogma or of passive consumption and the child is left unable to relate personally anddirectly to the world, and her/his growth is thereby stunted.10 Under the auspices of a good mentoring relationship the child begins to recognizeexperiences of Thou and to perceive the opening of new opportunities. It is here thatchildren truly begin to discover themselves, but also to encounter despair, since thechallenge of the new experience is such that they often react negatively and their owninner conflict comes to the surface, with the result that they avoid their problemsrather than examine their inconsistencies. For example, risk taking (e.g. sports, sex,drugs and criminal activities) increases as possibilities are tested: laws of the land,let alone of gravity, are defied, freedom is asserted and values are challenged andcreated. The individual, it is discovered, can make choices, but such risk taking is notnecessarily positive. Drug taking, suicide or rebellion can indicate a desire to test thelimits and to discover oneself or it can be a sign of wishing to avoid responsibilityeven to the extreme of killing oneself, and it is for this reason that relationship isall important. Success or failure at this stage is essential to the process of self-discovery, whichmay stall at a certain level, unless one can commit oneself more consciously torelationships. More conscious work feeds the increased sense of self-awareness that,in turn, helps to strengthen the ability to relate to others. Thus, the I and the I/Thoudevelop in harmony and synergy within the protective care of the parent or teacherwho act, like God, at another level. When the ability to relate reaches a certain depth,experiences of I/Eternal Thou begin to emerge and as the individual becomes moreconscious of this last level of relationship, I/Thou relationships are deepened and theI is reinforced. My point in discussing Buber’s Eternal Thou is not motivated by a concern withBuber’s God or religious education of any kind, but with the idea that the individualhuman is immersed in a larger community of some kind beyond the political andsocial boundaries which we currently erect. This larger community is accepting of,in relationship with, the individual, even if he does not even recognize its existence,and the progression Buber outlines towards a deepening understanding of the I anda better ability in one-on-one relationships occurs in concert with a growingawareness of this larger connection to the world around. Buber’s image of theshekina is simply one beautiful way of representing this idea of connection andthe concept encapsulates the active role humans must continue to play in bringingthat larger community together.
Martin Buber: Educating for Relationship 297Imitating God and the Asymmetrical Relationship: Re-examining EducationHaving highlighted key moments in Buber’s life and having examined morespecifically key ideas from Hasidism that play a monumental role in the developmentof Buber’s philosophy, we can now turn to a discussion of Buber’s essay Education(Buber, 1968a, pp. 83–103).11 Education was originally presented at a conference inHeidelberg whose theme was ‘The Development of the Creative Powers in the Child’and Buber began his speech by critiquing that theme in order to lay the appropriategroundwork for his own sense of education. Buber believed that, far from developingthe creative powers, education begins with the presupposition of creative powersalready in existence. Buber described the newborn, that which we have alreadydescribed as the Primitive Thou, as ‘a creative event if ever there was one’ (Buber,1968a, p. 83). Buber’s critique is necessary for several reasons. The first is fundamentallyreligious. Actual creation belongs to the realm of God, humankind does not so muchcreate as uncover and imbue meaning into that which they find. Thus, the child,in first discovering 2 þ 2 ¼ 4 and then developing the aptitude to manipulate thatknowledge, is not creating anew so much as discovering that which was alreadypresent. Remembering the teshuvah and the individual turning into relationship withEternal Thou in order to take up the project that is her/his unique path, we can seethat the individual uncovers the self in a personal process that seems creative and yet,within the eternal sphere, is really the ‘grace’ of ‘beginning again and ever again’(Buber, 1968a, p. 83). This leads to Buber’s second reason for critiquing the development of creativity.Buber is clear that all individuals are, in Kierkegaardian terms, both unique anduniversal, a ‘myriad realities, but also one reality’ (Buber, 1968a, p. 83). By this,Buber is acknowledging that each of us is born unique, grows up in a uniquesituation and is presented with a limitless range of possibilities. And all of us sharethis reality, the reality of having to discover and enact our existence, becomeourselves, fulfil the possibilities we have chosen, and it is here that the educatorbecomes pivotal to each human project. The role of the educator is to assist theseunique, situated realities along the shared reality of becoming themselves. Here againwe see Buber envisioning a process occurring, one that is the same for all in thatall must uncover their individual paths and follow them. Buber has set the groundwork for the reality with which education must concernitself, and it is the reality of supporting so many people in their individual and yetshared process, and his reason for critiquing the theme is to refocus education onthat task, since the creative powers for that are already present. For Buber eachPrimitive Thou is a potential, ‘in every hour the human race begins again’ (Buber,1968a, p. 83), a uniqueness that will change history by its very existence and willimpact on the situation into which future generations arrive. But Buber is not naı¨ ve,he acknowledged both history and the situation into which we are born withoutwanting to condemn us to it. Humans are not predetermined and, as such, arrivewith the powers of creativity, those with which to create themselves. As a result, therole of the educator is critical, for it is she/he who will ‘strengthen the light-spreadingforces of the doers’ (Buber, 1968a, p. 84) and match the educational reality to that ofeach child encountered within their historical situation and as a becoming project.
298 S. Blenkinsop Buber suggested that there are two key creative powers which exist innately in thePrimitive Thou and are involved in all learning. The first, the originator instinct, isthe wish to bring form, to do; ‘the child of man wants to make things’ (Buber, 1968a,p. 85). It is not simply busyness, but an instinct to have ‘something arise that was notthere before’ (Buber, 1968a, p. 85), and this includes tearing down that which was inorder to reconstruct some else. In many ways Buber saw this process of the newbornbuilding, destroying and reconstructing as a simple physical manifestation of theskills required to build, undo and build anew any life or community, physically,ethically or metaphysically. The adult who is destroying and rebuilding is givingform to his life and imbuing value into the skeletal frame of his existence. Thesignificance of the originator instinct for the educator is to ‘meet it’ and to assist thatinstinct to grow into the passion, not lust or greed, which will give direction andcontinuing renewal to individual in formation. It is not the instinct per se that isimportant but the ‘educative forces’ that nurture it. There is a second key instinct which is often ignored and which will playan important role in understanding the process of Buber’s understanding ofrelationship. There are two forms, indispensable for the building of true human life, to which the originative instinct, left to itself, does not lead and cannot lead: to sharing in an undertaking and to entering into mutuality. (Buber, 1968a, p. 87)The shared undertaking is the ‘true food of earthly immortality’ (Buber, 1968a,p. 87) and is distinguished from individual achievement that is, no matter howgratifying and celebrated, a ‘one-sided’ event. It is ‘only if someone grasps hishand . . . as a fellow creature lost in the world, to be his comrade or friend orlover . . . does he have an awareness and a share of mutuality’ (Buber, 1968a, p. 87).The act of putting things together may help the child ‘to know its possibility, itsorigin, and structure and connections’ (Buber, 1968a, p. 87), but it is the ‘instinct forcommunion’ that allows the individual to build a life. For Buber every PrimitiveThou comes with the instinct not only to form themselves and the physical world theyencounter, but also to form relationships and to share projects with others, and it isthese two forms, relationship and shared projects, which arise through the instinctto commune. Thus, the infant is, in one sense, born relational. For Buber theinstinct to commune is the assumed position prior to objectifying the world. As such,early experiences of communion with both the natural world and with caregiversbecome the groundwork, the means by which the instinct can flourish. It is also uponthese relational memories that the child/young adult will draw as she/he beginsto encounter Thou. The challenge then for educators is to allow as many of thesepossibilities for communion to occur in order to sustain, exercise and develop theinstinct. It is these two instincts, the solitary instinct of origin and the communal instinctfor relationship, which, when met and supported through the direction of education,lead to the possibility of building a ‘true human life’ (Buber, 1968a, p. 87).However, these two instincts are not the end of education, they are a necessarypresupposition for it, and it is through meeting and guiding these instincts that the
Martin Buber: Educating for Relationship 299‘almost imperceptible and yet important influence begins—that of criticism andinstruction’ (Buber, 1968a, p. 88). As the infant grows, Buber saw the I/It, the objectification of the world, becominga necessity. So, although the repercussions of this objectification of the world includethe fading of the child’s relational ability, this process of organizing the world,working within the current physical and social limitations and using the commonlyaccepted means and methods in order to discover and manipulate the objectiveworld, is absolutely required for survival. For Buber the child now focuses upon theuse of tools, which can range from a shovel or pencil to language, culture or evenother people. The hungry child finds ways to satisfy that need and begins to exploreand categorize the world around. However, the educator must always be aware of the project that exists beyond thesimple manipulation of tools and the role the educator plays in supporting andguiding those initial instincts towards the student’s decision to consciously takeup the project. So, Buber warned against current education that he suggested eitherignores communion, by using compulsion, or prioritizes ‘lower freedom’, which issimply an ill-defined possibility, the capacity for growth. The focus underlyingeducation is towards ‘higher freedom’, which is growth itself and is the ‘soul’sfreedom of decision’ (Buber, 1968a, p. 90). But even this freedom is ‘the run beforethe jump’ (Buber, 1968a, p. 91) without communion, for it is through communionthat we ‘become free’ in a process that removes one by one the things we lean on.The child, said Buber, is educated by the elements, by air and light and the life of plants and animals, and he is educated by relationships. The true educator represents both; but he must be to the child as one of the elements. (Buber, 1968a, p. 90)The teacher must imitate the elements, must be consistent and always availablefor, not hidden from, relationship, just like nature and the Eternal Thou. Thus,the presence of the natural world, the Eternal Thou, is always required within theeducational setting, for one never knows when a ‘mica moment’ or a ‘horse moment’might occur for a particular student. This also means that the educator must beaware of those possibilities and able to give credence to them when they occur,allowing, as best she/he can, for the possibility of those moments. Buber believed that the educator, in imitation of God, is responsible for bringingthe world to the student; it is through the medium of the teacher that the studentencounters the world. Everything that is within the educational realm (i.e. thecurriculum, the physical environment and the person of the teacher) is part ofthe student’s world and the teacher has made choices, thoughtfully or not, about thepresence thereof. In a sense the teacher is ‘creating’ a world, ‘touching’ every facetand allowing for the possibility of relationship with herself if the student chooses toconnect. The classroom becomes the shattered rainbow of the teacher that everystudent has the potential to encounter. If this is the case, then the teacher must bethoughtful and aware of the world she/he is creating. For example, the teacher mustbe aware of the ‘scale of values’ she/he is bringing to the student and make thosevalues present. She/he must be clear and constant and enact those values from
300 S. Blenkinsopa living situation with respect to the student. This responsibility that Buber placeson the educator is one of the reasons he disavows centralized or detachedacademic systems. The thoughtful teacher must make education conscious andwilled, it is ‘a selection by man of the effective world’ (Buber, 1968a, p. 89), and theteacher is a manifestation of the world she/he would wish to see without forgettingthe reality that is the students directly in front of her/him. For Buber the educator must work with the students in the classroom, whoeverthey might be, whatever their capacities. The teacher: enters the school-room for the first time, . . . sees them crouching at the desks, indiscriminately flung together, the misshapen and the well-proportioned, animal faces, empty faces, and noble faces in indiscriminate confusion, like the presence of the created universe; the glance of the educator accepts and receives them all. (Buber, 1968a, p. 94)It is the role of the educator to begin ‘the real process of education’ by‘experiencing the other side’ (Buber, 1968a, p. 96), and this implies a profoundexperience. Buber used the example of a man striking another and receiving‘in his soul the blow which he strikes’ (Buber, 1968a, p. 96).12 The educator musttry to experience what it is to be the students, must ‘feel’ how her/his own actionsstrike them and imagine herself/himself as those students. However, this can onlyhappen through inclusion, confirmation and trust. ‘Relation in education is one ofpure dialogue’ and trust ‘the most inward achievement of the relation in education’(Buber, 1968a, p. 98). The educator must have ‘gathered the child into his life’so that the ‘reality between them . . . is mutuality’ (Buber, 1968a, p. 98). For Buberthe teacher must love both the light and dark within their students: ‘to love light initself, and darkness towards the light’ (Buber, 1968a, p. 94). Here we see the humanrole of bringing forth the spark that is within, of seeing the light of that spark andthen of allowing that spark to burn forth by breaking down the walls of darknesswhich keep it from entering into relationship with other sparks. It is throughthe connection of these sparks, through mutuality, that the students are able to beginto discover themselves, and it is here that Buber sketched in what I believe to be thesteps by which the student must climb,13 with the support of an educatorand ongoing encounters with the environment, from the I/It towards the possibilityof the I/Thou.The Asymmetrical Relationship: The Steps in the Teacher–Student RelationshipBuber identified three chief forms of relationship in the process towards the I/Thou:the abstract dialogue, the asymmetrical relationship and the I/Thou relationship.The first form of relation is ‘an abstract but mutual experience of inclusion’(Buber, 1968a, p. 99). By this Buber meant a moment of illumination where onebecomes able ‘to acknowledge’ another person and the two individuals mutuallydiscover one another as being distinct but also as someone with whom theycan relate.
Martin Buber: Educating for Relationship 301 [They] have become aware that it is with the other as with ourselves, and that what rules over us both is not a truth of recognition but the truth-of-existence and the existence-of-truth of the Present Being. (Buber, 1968a, p. 99)This is not complete inclusion, as Buber defined it, for it ignores the realityof being and life, but it is the first taste of the possibility of relationship, the glory ofbelonging and the conscious awakening of that instinct of communion. However,this form of relation leaves out the full reality of the other person. It is more ofan intellectual discovery of the potential for relationship. The next two forms‘proceed from the inclusion of this full reality’ (Buber, 1968a, p. 99). It is the second step that Buber described as the asymmetrical relation. It is aconcrete ‘but one-sided experience of inclusion’ and it is ‘the relation of education’(Buber, 1968a, p. 99). The asymmetrical relation traps the educator in a paradoxwhere what ‘is otherwise found only as grace, inlaid in the folds of life—theinfluencing of the lives of others with one’s own life—becomes here a function anda law’ (Buber, 1968a, p. 100). Teachers, imitating God, become the official purveyorsof grace, and Buber stressed that this role is dangerous, since it can lead the educatorto arbitrariness or propagandizing if the student’s reality is ignored. Here the teacherbecomes like the master actor. He describes the teacher’s role thus: Without the action of his spirit being in any way weakened he must at the same time be over there, on the surface of that other spirit which is being acted upon—and not of some conceptual, contrived spirit, but all the time the wholly concrete spirit of this . . . unique being who is living and confronting him, and who stands with him in the common situation of ‘educating’ and ‘being educated’. (Buber, 1968a, p. 100)The educator must attempt to stand at both ends of the common situation, for thestudent is unable to do so at this point in the process of self-discovery. It takesa thoughtful educator to sense the nuances of the student’s sensibility14 and to pickup changes while at the same time offering experiences, allowing the originatorinstinct and providing instruction. So, rather like a parent who monitors a toddler atthe beach, the teacher watches over the student, allowing him to experience, risk anddiscover without being aware of the protection. And this is just the beginning ofan ongoing process whereby the child must become aware, must discoverherself/himself, must become conscious of the nature and significance of relation-ships and must be able to offer support to others.15 Ultimately the educator isstriving to do herself/himself out of a job: in the moment when the pupil is able to throw himself across and experience from over there, the educative relationship would be burst asunder. (Buber, 1968a, p. 101)At this point the educator is no longer a guide but a friend, because the child isnow able to truly enter into ‘the third form of the dialogical relation, which is basedon a concrete and mutual experience of inclusion. It is the true inclusion of one
302 S. Blenkinsopanother by human souls’ (Buber, 1968a, p. 101), and it is the final step in progressiontowards the I/Thou, although the teacher is still only the imitator of God andthe process must continue in what is likely to be another asymmetrical relationwhere we, as students, need to gain insight into relationship and the Eternal Thou isthe teacher offering relationship. Arrival at the I/Thou is an important goal forBuber’s education and for what Buber understood life to be. It is important thateducators do not get confused here. Buber was not suggesting that education onlyoccurs when the dynamic of the asymmetrical relationship is in place. What he wassuggesting was that we are to support children into adulthood, into true dialogue,at which point the educational relationship becomes a more mutual process.This mutuality is not an asymmetrical relationship but a coming together of twoindividuals as equals in dialogue, who are then able to act as support to each otherand facilitate each other’s learning. Presumably they are able to challenge and tocommune in ways that were beneficial to their separate projects and to the sharedproject of their relationship. Before leaving the teacher–student relationship we should mention the role ofthe teacher as facilitator. Having entered a relationship with a student the teachergets a sense of the student’s needs and the direction he/she is likely to take in life.It is the teacher’s responsibility to choose ‘the forces of the world which the childneeds for the building up of his substance’ (Buber, 1968a, p. 101). Thus, the educatorbecomes a facilitator and a foil for providing the child with what it needs, whenit needs it. The educator is set now in the midst of the need which he experiences in inclusion, but only a bit deeper in it. He is set in the midst of the service, only a bit higher up, which he invokes without words; he is set in the imitatio Dei absconditi sed non ignoti. (Buber, 1968a, p. 103)The educator must never forget that even the relational neophyte has the abilityto teach us something. Even if the asymmetrical relationship is burst asunder, theproject is not at an end and, as Buber suggested, ‘our students teach us, our worksform us. . . . How are we educated by children, by animals! Inscrutably involved, welive in the currents of universal reciprocity’ (Buber, 1970, p. 67). As teachers we maybe more adept and aware of relationship, but we are by no means static or complete. Buber ended his essay Education claiming that the educator acts ‘in imitation ofa God hidden but not unknown’. The teacher acts like God as she/he offersrelationship to those who are so young that they are unaware of the offer being madeand then she/he allows that relationship to change and grow as the student climbs,becoming more able to recognize relationship and becoming more fully I. Theteacher is helping the student realize himself/herself and, in the process, hoping to seethe educational relationship ‘burst asunder’. Buber saw the teacher in a position notof ‘making’ things happen, but of bringing the world to the student, of allowingfor the possibility of encounters with that world, of providing support, of offeringrelationship and of meeting the students where they are. The teacher’s job is to allowfor, and enter into, relationship, to be more thoughtful about the interaction andto be conscious about the notion of inclusion. However, the teacher can only do
Martin Buber: Educating for Relationship 303her/his best, accepting the fact that in entering this relationship with the studentshe/he will discover more about herself/himself, come closer to her/his own unityand, thereby, become better able to support the next student.ConclusionThe purpose of taking a new and careful look at Buber’s work is to acknowledge thatthere is an ecological relationship in which we are immersed and that thisrelationship, although often unseen and unacknowledged, is fundamental toour humanity and to education. The Eternal Thou is one representation of thekind of relationship I am pointing at. Buber believed that the discovery anddevelopment of one’s relationship to this larger unity, or connective web, in which weexist affects our ability to develop better relationships with the more than humanworld around us. For Buber we are not fully human unless we allow our dualinstincts of creation and communion to flourish. If he was correct, this means thateducators must become very aware of the world; the teacher needs to consider whatshe/he is placing in the classroom and the classroom itself, needs to allow for thepossibility of encountering that world, needs to wrestle with questions of naturalversus synthetic as she/he collects educational materials for her/his students andmust be able to answer for her/his decisions. Schools and parents must also face the question of green space and whether ornot a person’s ability to make connections to the larger world is impeded by a layerof tarmac over the landscape. Is climbing a plastic structure in a gymnasiuma qualitatively different experience from that of climbing a tree in an autumn forest?Beyond this Buber argued that this process of being thoughtful, reverential, of thematerials and tools that we use helps to reconnect this shattered rainbow, and onewonders if that can be augmented through allowing students to more fullyunderstand the tools and materials they use. For example, the food in the grocerystore comes from a seed that has been sown in the tilled and cultivated earth andnurtured into existence to be plucked at the appropriate time. I believe thatexperiencing this process would change the ability of the student to have a sense ofreverence for that food. Ultimately, Buber’s mandate to educators in this object filledworld is to be more thoughtful, more aware of nature and of how it is connectedto you and the students. The educational implications of this paper are varied and presumably reach eachreader in different ways. For example, Buber’s concept of shiflut and the individualnature of each of our projects challenge the very basis of our current competitivepractices. Grading on a bell curve seems to implicitly accept that one individualis better than another, while validating a centralized evaluation system whoseobjectivity is both dubious and gross and which fails to take into account howspecific individuals are progressing with respect to themselves. There is also a call forthe teacher to be aware of each student in a historical situation and deal with thereality that confronts that student without condemning the student to remain in thatsituation. However, these ideas are not new, it is this framework for relationaldevelopment that is. Buber’s construction of the development of relationship is important not solely forenvironmental education, but to education as a whole. His is neither a call for more
304 S. Blenkinsopenvironmental education classes and courses focused on ecological and socialjustice nor is it a call to more thoughtfully spread these issues throughout thecurriculum. For Buber, to live fully is to be in relationship and to have the ability toexercise thoughtfully our instincts to form and to commune, and as such it is thecore or essence of education itself, it is the fundamental way we should thinkabout education. The educator, in imitating God, has the opportunity and theresponsibility to assist students to discover I, and in so doing support them as theybegin the challenge of life. Communion with other humans and with the worldaround is necessary throughout our lives. As young children it supports our innateproclivities, as developing children it gives us moments of insight into the possibilityof relationship and into clarity with respect to I, and as adults communion allows usto become more fully human and to take up the responsibility of building communityin the present and for the next generation. If we accept Buber’s idea, then we needto become more active in, and aware of, the development of our relationships so asto become the means for the possible renewal of the world, as Buber so eloquentlystressed. Practically this means that educators must be as thoughtful as possibleabout the world they are bringing to the student. A genuine and consistent world‘touched’ by the teacher that might allow the possibility of those moments of insightand that is able to support an individual project once chosen or a relationshiponce turned to. Here we must remember that the non-human, particularly nature,might be the better teacher, both because it is unobfuscated, a pure other like Buber’scat, and because it is a part of the shattered rainbow, the quiet voice of theEternal Thou that the teacher is trying to imitate. As we have seen, Buber’s encounters with the non-human environment wereso significant that they shaped him and led him to emphasize similar kindsof encounters for the child in his essay Education. However, it was not strictly theencounters that were important, but that the encounters allowed him to see thepossibility of relationship and to see the I with more clarity. As a result, Buber didnot want us to objectify nature, to approach nature in the one-directionalmonological way of I/It, but to understand that any approach to a specific objectholds with it the possibility of engaging with the Eternal Thou situated within, theshekina. This is because the self is discovered and nurtured by means of continuallymore reflective and conscious relationships, so that the individual becomes a person‘in between’ others, as Buber sid. With this perspective firmly in mind, educators can select a range of experiencesfor their learners to enhance the opportunity of forming relationships with otherhumans, the natural world and encountered objects, such as literature and art.However, just as the teacher cannot force a student to turn to a relationship or tolearn, so the impetus for relationship with the non-human world remains with eachof us. The educator then offers relationship both in the model that he/she presents tostudents and in the form of the environment he/she selects in order to help the childmove from the Primitive Thou through the I/It objectification of the world to thepossibility of bursting asunder the asymmetrical relationship in order to allow theI/Thou to develop and the individual to embark on his project and the task ofrebuilding community here in the reality of the temporal world. Ultimately, I think it is the development of relationship that affords themost significant contribution to the educational discussion. As a framework it
Martin Buber: Educating for Relationship 305offers an opening for educators to see themselves contributing to the larger projectof building more fulfilled human lives for students and a more thoughtfullygenerated community. It also undercuts several of the practical difficultieseducators have that I mentioned at the beginning of this paper. It begins to generatea theoretical underpinning into which educators can tap and offers a way to explainthe challenges many educators encounter between the transfer of information andthe lack in change of behaviour. If education is to focus upon the development of thecommunal instinct of the individual through the use of instruction and direction,then it might be possible to discuss the community that we are hoping to become.This would be a community that allows the individual to develop becauserelationship is allowed to develop.Notes 1 Education was originally presented at the Third International Educational Conference, Heidelberg, Austria 1925. The conference subject was ‘The Development of the Creative Powers in the Child’. In Buber, M. (1968a) Between Man and Man, R.G. Smith (trans.), Macmillan, New York. 2 As above. 3 Translated as ‘In imitation of a God hidden but not unknown’. 4 Educational philosopher Maxine Greene has pointed out that, prior to this, nobody had brought elements of Buber’s Hasidism directly into the educational conversation (personal communication, 2004). Other authors (Friedman, 1956; Gordon, 1973, 1986; Grob, 1985) have read and made reference to Buber’s theological literature, but none explicitly used Hasidic concepts directly from that literature in support of their educational discussions. The earliest projects (Friedman, 1956; Winetrout, 1963) were useful overviews that understated Buber’s theology. Scudder (1968, 1971 & 1975) lacked the religious underpinnings and caused what appears to be a common misinterpreta- tion of the educational, asymmetrical relationship, making it dangerously static and authoritarian. Although this position has spawned lively debate (Kiner, 1969; Gordon, 1973; Wingerter, 1973), none of the respondents, although assuming different positions, dealt with either Buber’s Hasidism or with the educator as acting in imitation of God or the developmental nature of the educational relationship. More recently Buber has been examined with respect to notions of care (McHenry, 1997) and of the environment, and yet these works are still predominantly based in his secular literature. 5 Please note that in order to achieve clarity I am suggesting that an italicized I will serve as an indicator of Buber’s I, the I of relationship, and not the I of the author. 6 Buber often uses this image of the embrace to signify relationship. He sees the embrace metaphorically, two people coming together holding each other without dissolving into one another. 7 Buber distinguishes tikkun from other traditions. He sees Vedantic philosophy as a non-dual search for unity with everything ultimately dissolving into one. Buber’s unity is non-dual but multivariate, meaning unity involves many coming together as one but remaining distinct therein, hence the importance of individual uniqueness. 8 Kavana, or intention, is not solely the conscious intentions of the mind (kavanot) but also requires the ‘dedication of the whole being’. 9 Buber sees confirming another as both a profound offer of acceptance and a way to assist the other to wrestle ‘with him against himself’ (Buber, 1965, p. 29). 10 For Buber there are two forms of crisis which can lead a self into hiding, render a person’s psychic dynamic ‘obdurate and secretive’ (Buber, 1953, p. 134). The first is through ‘negative experiences with our environment’ (Buber, 1953, p. 134), which denies confirmation of our being. The second crisis is ‘negative experiences with oneself’ (Buber, 1953, p. 134), which is the individual’s inability to confirm himself.
306 S. Blenkinsop 11 Education is Buber’s most comprehensive discussion of education. Other works, such as The Education of Character (Buber, 1968b, pp. 104–117), offer further insight but are not as complete. 12 Buber tells a story in Paths to Utopia (1958b) of witnessing a beating and having the sense of being both the beater and the receiver. 13 Buber commonly uses ladder imagery, as comparable to a person climbing towards relationship with the Eternal Thou. 14 The educator must remember that each student is unique and in flux and may therefore be at a completely different stage of growth from that of other students. 15 Educators must not forget either Kavanna, intention, or tikkun, the turning. The teacher is the purveyor of grace only in so far as he tries to set the stage for understanding if and when those moments of insight occur, but it is the student who is responsible for turning herself, working hard and thoughtfully preparing for the possibility of relationship in conjunction with animals, plants, minerals and, lastly, a teacher trying to imitate God.ReferencesBuber, M. (1951) Distance and relation, Hibbert Journal, XLIX(2), pp. 105–113.Buber, M. (1953) Good and Evil (M. Bullock & R. G. Smith, Trans.) (NewYork: Charles Scribner’s Sons).Buber, M. (1958a) Hasidism and Modern Man (M. Friedman, Trans.) (NewYork: Harper & Row).Buber, M. (1958b) Paths in Utopia (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.) (Boston, MA: Beacon Press).Buber, M. (1964) Daniel: Dialogues on Realization (M. Friedman, Trans.) (NewYork: Holt, Rinehart and Winston).Buber, M. (1965) The Knowledge of Man (M. Friedman, Trans.) (NewYork: Harper & Row).Buber, M. (1967) Encounter: Autobiographical Fragments (La Salle, IL: Open Court).Buber, M. (1968a) Between Man and Man (R. G. Smith, Trans.) (NewYork: Macmillan).Buber, M. (1969) Buber and the Theatre (M. Friedman, Trans.) (NewYork: Funk & Wagnalls).Buber, M. (1970) I and Thou (W. Kaufmann, Trans.) (NewYork: Charles Scribner’s Sons).Blenkinsop, S. (2004a) Choice, Dialogue, and Freedom: Towards a Philosophy of Education Based in Existentialism, unpublished doctoral dissertation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University).Blenkinsop, S., (2004b) Martin Buber’s Education: imitating God, the developmental relationalist, in: Philosophy of Education Yearbook (Chicago: Philosophy of Education Society), pp. 79–87.Friedman, M. (1956) Martin Buber’s philosophy of education, Educational Theory, 6(2), pp. 95–104.Friedman, M. (1960) Martin Buber: The Life of Dialogue (New York: Harper and Row).Gordon, H. (1973) Would Martin Buber endorse the Buber model?, Educational Theory, 23(2), pp. 215–223.Gordon, H. (1986) Dance, Dialogue, and Despair: Existentialist Philosophy and Education for Peace in Israel (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press).Greene, M. (2004) Personal Conversations were held between Dr. Greene and the author over more than five years.Grob, L. (1985) Buberian peace education in the Mideast: a Buberian critique, Teachers College Record, 35(4), pp. 423–435.Hendley, B. (1978) Martin Buber on the teacher/student relationship: a critical appraisal, Journal of Philosophy of Education, 12, pp. 141–148.Kiner, E. (1969) Some problems in a Buber model for teaching, Educational Theory, 19(4), pp. 396–403.Koo, G. (1964) The structure and process of self, Educational Theory, 14(2), pp. 111–132.McHenry, H. (1997) Education as encounter: Buber’s pragmatic ontology, Educational Theory, 47(3), pp. 341–357.Scudder, J. (1968) Freedom with authority: a Buber model for teaching, Educational Theory, 18(2), pp. 133–142.
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