G. A. BENNAARS, SCHOLAR, TEACHER, ROLE-MODEL
PROFESSOR BENNAARS AS A SCHOLAR
Professor Bennaars was a native of the Netherlands. When he joined Kenyatta University (then a University College) in 1975, he brought with him a wealth of knowledge gathered from many courses of studies in the Netherlands, England and at Makerere University in Uganda. However, his main interest lay in the Philosophy of Education, especially that of African education.
Whereas most philosophy scholars were at this time preoccupied with the question of whether one could speak of such a thing as African philosophy at all, Bennaars took it as a given and started to put together his ideas on the Philosophy of Education in Africa. This endeavour resulted in seminar papers and pamphlets that he used for teaching the course: Philosophy of Education. These writings were, in 1986, transformed into the important textbook: Philosophy and education in Africa, co-authored with Professor R. J. Njoroge.1 This work was also inspired by the ideas of the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. In fact, Bennaars devoted his doctoral thesis to the teaching of Nyerere. He entitled it: “The education of man: Nyerere’s contribution towards and existential philosophy of education in Africa.” Bennaars other mentors were Paulo Freire and the phenomenologist W. Luijpen.
In Ethics, education and development,2 Bennaars makes an attempt to understand human nature. His view of humanity is that, as a physical and social product, man’s characteristics are a given. However, men do not have to accept this fact; they have a choice: a choice between accepting themselves as they are, or seeing themselves as incomplete, unfinished, and therefore in the process of becoming. According to Bennaars, the latter is the basis of our self-awareness, self-determination, and self-realization/actualization
Expounding on this idea, Bennaars points out that the more people becomes aware of themselves, of the world, and of the possibilities they have, the more they stand out as human beings, as persons. At the same time, people become aware of their social connections: human beings cannot live in isolation. They make their own social world, a community where man is one with other fellow men in order to co-exist. What Professor Bennaars calls the community model of understanding the human being as a self is actually a modified form of the existentialist philosophy of Paulo Freire.
In yet another work, Schools in need of education,3 Bennaars expresses his deepest feelings about the African child. Going by the title of the book, one wonders whether this is not a paradox. All over the world, people expect the school to be centres of education, to instill knowledge to those who go there, but here Bennaars seems to be telling us that it is the other way round. Why?
According to Bennaars, schools in Africa are facing a crisis, namely, a lack of an appropriate pedagogy. This is on account of the existence of conflicting interests among the various actors and stakeholders, that is, the school, the family, and the society at large. The result of this conflict or of this competition is, as Bennaars sees it, a malignant growth of “non-education.” As a remedy, Bennaars proposes a truly African pedagogy, which includes not only instruction but also the social vision of education.
Bennaars identifies another crisis of African pedagogy, that is, the lack of hope. As he sees it, Africa is suffering from what he refers to as a “drunken boat” syndrome. In this metaphor, African pedagogy is being likened to a ship captain who has no maps, nor other piloting equipment. This situation engenders a feeling of hopelessness. No wonder, due to lack of hope , some African leaders seem to behave as if they have no will to set goals for their people. This is why Bennaars recommends that for Africa to be able to face the challenges of the 21st century, she must adopt a pedagogy that goes beyond the traditional pedagogy, namely, a pedagogy of hope. According to him there is no alternative to the pedagogy of hope. Such a pedagogy will take care of the four elements necessary for making education possible, that is to say, pedagogical understanding, pedagogical intention, pedagogical atmosphere and pedagogical relation. This type of education will cater for children in schools, in traditional set-ups, and even for the neglected ones in the streets.
Finally, Bennaars attributes the problems of Africa to a lack of African pedagogy of caring. He makes a plea for this type of pedagogy. This is in line with his unpublished work on the ethics of caring which incorporates seven themes: namely: (1) caring for oneself, (2) for intimate others, (3) for others/strangers, (4) animals, (5) plants/the living environment, (6) human-made objects and (7) ideas. In advocating a pedagogy of caring, Bennaars argues for reflective teaching which attends mindfully to the social and political context of education, as well as to technical and practical aspects of it.
In introducing all these novel ideas in education, Bennaars does not wish to be dogmatic. He is merely making an invitation to educators, especially in Africa, to reflect more critically on their work.
BENNAARS AS A ROLE MODEL TEACHER
A role model is a person whom one admires and whose character or behaviour one tries to imitate. Teachers often become role models for their students: students strive to do as well as or even to outdo their masters. We learn from history that Plato learned to teach by sitting at the feet of Socrates, the same thing held true for Aristotle with regard to Plato. One can give many examples of such role models in history.
Although there are educational skills that all teachers should acquire in order to do their work effectively, the quality that makes one a role model teacher comes from elsewhere, from one’s personality and character. This was the case with Bennaars.
In our world today, it is expected that teachers should sympathetically understand their students in order to establish a harmonious and happy relationship. This is all the more necessary since students are drawn from many different backgrounds with variations of cultural beliefs. On the basis of this fact, Bennaars never failed to show kindness, care, and sympathy towards his students. Bennaars was one of those teachers who found job satisfaction in teaching because he took it as a vocation. Even as the Dean of the Faculty of Education, member of Senate, and director of several programmes at Kenyatta University, Bennaars tried never to miss his lectures. What we have said so far applies to Bennaars as the role model teacher at the individual level.
A the technical level, Bennaars developed the principle of a simple, rapid and attractive approach that encourages thorough learning. We can dub this principle as the “Bennaars’ pedagogical principle” of teaching and learning. The principle is that every person is capable of education in all that is worthwhile; and so nobody should be labeled unteachable. It is this two-fold approach to teaching that endeared Bennaars to his students, with many of them taking him as a role model.
1. R.J. Njoroge and G.A. Bennaars 1986), Philosophy of education in Africa, Nairobi, Kenya Transafrica Press,1986. (Since its first publication, the book has undergonea number of impressions.)
2. G.A. Bennaars. Ethics, education and development. Nairobi, Kenya: East African Educational Publishers, 1993.
3. G.A. Bennaars. Schools in need of education. Nairobi, Kenya: Lectern Publications, 1998.