Agapē as purpose, pedagogy and practice for the middle years

Year: 2021

Author: Victory, Michael

Type of paper: Individual Paper

Agapē is the creation of Paul of Tarsus from the first century CE. It was for him the purpose of education, his pedagogy, and his practice as a teacher. In a twenty-first century world fractured by COVID, the students in our middle years are struggling with identity, restriction and ultimately mental health. Agapē is one possible reimagining of schooling for the middle years in western democracies.The paper draws on a narrative inquiry that follows the three-dimensional model of Clandinin and Connelly. The source material for the inquiry are ten letters written by Paul to groups in the Mediterranean Basin between circa April 50 and the summer of 55 CE. The inquiry takes a materialist approach and ignores the religions dimension of the letters, a path followed by contemporary philosophers such as Badiou and Žižek.A definition of agapē is presented that demonstrates its relevance to the contemporary classroom. It is a path lightly trodden with only Amidon documenting his approach in the middle years and Caputo at the tertiary level. I argue that agapē can be understood in terms of intersubjectivity (Mead), and reflexivity (Giddens) and it can be taught.Agapē is generally translated as love. This is unfortunate for education, as love is inextricably intertwined with the concept of a sacred union, romantic attachment and with passion and desire. When writing about love in education (Freire, Hogan, Noddings), and in my own experience when speaking about love in education, there can be great discomfort among readers and listeners. This paper argues that agapē is a pragmatic pedagogy that relies on a particular reflexive quality in the teacher.Paul brings a new purpose and pedagogy to education in his time and place; each person made the commitment to teach and learn from others. He changed people’s understanding about the relationships that they were to live, to one in which the good of the other was the consideration. The letters are clear that people have a responsibility to set each other right, not through the power of coercive authority, but in a spirit of gentleness, with a consciousness of their own temptations, and with a commitment to the broader community. This is an approach that can be universalised.The paper draws on contemporary education literature (Biesta, Freire and Noddings ) to explain Paul’s approach and to find the lessons for contemporary teachers in Paul’s pedagogy and practice.