Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wisdom of Older Adults : From Teacher to Master--Pedagogues to Hegemon.

Older people as teachers and mentors misses the true meaning of accumulated experience...wisdom.

Pedagogues and teachers in ancient Greek society were slaves–often foreigners and the ‘spoils of war’. Pedagogues were trusted members of rich households who accompanied the children of their ‘masters’ everywhere, including sitting beside them at school and helping them with their homework. These pedagogues were seen as ‘tenders’ of children (pais plus agögos, a ‘child-tender’). Prepubescent children were often put in their charge until late adolescence.

Basically a pedagogue is a child minder. And not just any child, but minders of the children of the rich. Friere’s (1972) notion of the ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’–the education of the privileged by the oppressed is an apt interpretation. Especially in line with policy makers low regard for teachers. Teachers are treated as lowly oppressed child minders for the rich.

But older adults teach not only children but adults. Malcolm Knowles (1970) was so convinced that adults learned differently to children that he created a new term–andragogy, as the art and science of helping adults learn–against pedagogy. But andragogy does not help the definition of wisdom of older adults.

Within ancient Greek society there was a strong distinction between the activities of pedagogues (paidagögus) and subject teachers (didáskalos). Didactic, the aim to instruct and teach morals or subject content. The Swedish researcher David Hamilton observes that United States usage of ‘pedagogy’ mirrors the mainland European use of ‘didactic’. The implicit meaning in the USA is that pedagogy is teaching and didactic is the method of teaching. But this does not define older adults as teachers.

Plato talks about pedagogues as ‘men who by age and experience are qualified to serve as both leaders (hëgemonas) and custodians (paidagögous)’ of children. Hegemony-derived from the Greek egemon, meaning “leader, ruler, often in the sense of a state other than his own” Although hegemony has been commonly used to indicate political predominance, where one ideology associated with one country, takes over the aspirations of the citizens of another country, little has been written on the hegemon, the individual that starts the idea rolling. A lot has been written in sociological literature on hegemony. The Italian political analysts, Gramsci comes to mind. But what about the individual who influences whole societies and the creation of new societies.  There is truly one such man and it is not whom you are thinking of.

Only a few fragments of Epicurus's 300 written works remain. But what has been salvaged has some pertinence to gerontologists. They are subversive and radical. For Epicurus (341 BC – 270 BC) the purpose of philosophy was to attain the happy, tranquil life, characterized by ataraxia—peace and freedom from fear—and aponia—the absence of pain—and by living a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends. He taught in "gardens", that pleasure and pain are the measures of what is good and evil; death is the end of both body and soul and should therefore not be feared; the gods do not reward or punish humans; the universe is infinite and eternal; and events in the world are ultimately based on the motions and interactions of atoms moving in empty space. Epicurus explicitly warned against overindulgence because it often leads to pain. He was against the ego, which is why he was not interested in politics and argued for people to "live in obscurity", "get through life without drawing attention to yourself".

But Epicurus influence was more than his followers, he influence the creation of new societies. He is a hegemon who influence the dominant hegemony of today, the United States. Thomas Jefferson who considered himself an Epicurean established that  "all men are created equal" and endowed with certain "inalienable rights," such as "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." His emphasis on minimizing harm and maximizing happiness in his formulation of the Ethic of Reciprocity "One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself" was later picked up most religious doctrine. Epicurus influenced the French Revolution, and other philosophers like John Locke, who wrote that people had a right to "life, liberty, and property." Even Karl Marx's doctoral thesis was on "The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature." Epicurus influenced many other philosophers who themselves become hegemons in their own right. Friedrich Nietzsche cites affinities to Epicurus in a number of his works. Epicurus contribution was subversive. He unacknowledged that fear of death and punishment as the primary cause of anxiety among human beings, and anxiety in turn as the source of extreme and irrational desires.

In our modern world where we the fear of terrorist as our daily fodder, where we are told to aspire to be the 1% and yet behave as though we are gangsters--tattoos and guns--and a supreme court that is unwilling to discuss our right for assistance at end-of-life--to end our fear of pain at the end of life--the message that Epicurus has is radical. He is a true hegemon.

Older adults wisdom is about marching to an internal drum beat, without ego, without fear. This is the wisdom we can impart. In our small manageable ways we are hegemons in our role.