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초등교육의 특징은 세계에 대한 순수한 호기심과 교사에 대한 진심어린 사랑이 있는 어린 학생들을 대상으로 한다는 데에 있으며, 그러한 학생들의 마음을 교과에 대한 올바른 인식과 태도로 전환시키는 것을 그 과제로 한다. 초등교과교육이 순조롭게 이루어지기 위해서는 학생 편에 성(誠)과 경(敬)에 해당하는 교과에 대한 인식과 태도가 갖추어져야 하며, 그러한 인식과 태도는 일종의 ‘정신간 기능’으로서 먼저 교사 집단에 공유되어 있어야 한다. 「소학」은 이러한 교육원리를 어린 학생들이 배워야 할 교육내용으로 체계화했다는 점에서 주목의 대상이 된다. 「소학」의 입교편이 다루고 있는, 교과를 배우며 살아가는 삶의 의미는 어릴 때부터 누구나 배워야 할 내용이며, 그것을 가르치는 일은 시대를 초월하여 정당성을 가진다. 도덕과는 ‘입교’를 위한 교과로서, 다시 말하면 교과를 배우며 살아가는 삶의 의미를 깨닫도록 이끄는 교과로서 새롭게 인식될 필요가 있다.


The essential feature of elementary education is that it pursues to provide a basis for the further education. The word "basis" in the phrase "a basis for the further education" seems to be easily construed as referring to the prerequisite condition for the learning and teaching of school subjects. But, with slight reconsideration, it will also be thought as referring to the final result which we strive to get at through the life-long process of education. Hence, the "basis" we can expect to reach at the end point of education must be presupposed to have been given to the learner at the very starting point. To fully understand the metaphorical use of "basis", it is helpful for us to examine what is implied in the opening lines of Chung-yung, which consist of the three key concepts: human nature, the way and teaching. Chu Hsi selected it as the introductory statement of the first chapter of Elementary Learning (Hsiao-hsueh). The sentence not only condenses the whole contents of the book Chu Hsi compiled for elementary learning, but implies an educational theory. "Human nature" in the sentence can be read as the conceptual tool to synthesize the two incompatible uses of "basis": the innate capability of learning school subjects(the starting point) and the ideal mind constituted by the religious dimension of subject-teaching(the end point). In the process of learning and teaching, the "human nature" is expressed as children's intense affection for school subjects and teachers, by virtue of which it become made possible to cultivate the children's mind into that of a Sage. The chapters of Hsiao-hsueh which were organized under the heading of "Establishing the Educational Process"(Li-chiao) can be interpreted as intimating the meaning of school subjects as an implicit theory of education. By being in a position to learn the meaning of school subjects, children can be respected as co-subjects of education. "Moral Education" subject can be justified as a compulsory part of school curriculum in that it is a good way to provide the indispensable view of life and education for children.