Have you a growing child? If not, suppose you had one: What would you like him or her to become? A doctor? lawyer? scientist? business executive? or, if a girl who hopes for marriage instead of a career, the wife of one of these?
Most people want their children to have certain basic advantages: prosperity, a good job, the respect of their fellow human beings. Too often, unfortunately, their ambitions stop there. They are centered in materialistic, not in spiritual, values.
Systems of education are directed largely by what parents want for their children. Because most parents want material advantages for them, the modern system of education was developed primarily with this goal in mind. Little attention, if any, has been paid to helping students to become successful human beings.
How far might the present philosophy of education be carried?
I once read about a Mafia capo who was kissed worshipfully on the back of his hand by a poor peasant woman in Sicily — not, it seems, for any favor he had done her, and certainly not in admiration for his character. Why, then, would she demonstrate such adulation? One can only assume it was because his thefts and murders had brought him great material power. And what mattered the sick conscience which must have been his own constant companion? That, apparently, in the woman’s eyes, was his problem. To her, anyway, and probably to many others, the man deserved admiration because he had achieved worldly power.
We’ve all heard of, and perhaps also met, wealthy people of dubious character who were more or less excused their “eccentricities” solely on account of their wealth.
But do riches really constitute success? Surely not, and especially not if, in the process, the admiration they attract is mingled with general dislike. What is it, to succeed at the cost of one’s own happiness and peace of mind, and at the cost of other people’s sincere respect and good will?
Success means much more than money and power. Of what good are millions of dollars, if their attainment deprives one of all that makes life truly worth living? Many people have learned this lesson too late in life to have any time left to improve matters. Why then — they may have wondered belatedly — were they encouraged in the first place so to distort their values?
For, of course, they were encouraged. Everything they ever learned at home, in school, and from their peers persuaded them that success lies in things tangible, not in seemingly insubstantial, more spiritual gains.
It comes down to what people really want from life. Doesn’t the object of this desire lie beyond such tangible acquisitions as money, prestige, and power? They want these for the inner satisfaction, the happiness, they expect to gain through them. It is self-evident, then, that what people really want from life is not the mere symbols of happiness, but happiness itself.
Why, then, don’t our schools teach students not only how to be successful materially, but successful also as people? I’m not saying that dusty facts such as the dates of trade embargoes and ententes may not serve a useful purpose also. But why don’t our schools teach, in addition to those facts, skills more clearly focused on human needs and interests, such as how to get along well with others, and, even more importantly, how to get along with oneself? how to live healthfully? how to concentrate? how to develop one’s latent abilities? how to be a good employee, or a good boss? how to find a suitable mate? how to have a harmonious home life? how to acquire balance in one’s life?
Few mathematics teachers try to show their students how the principles of mathematics might help them in the exercise of everyday logic, and of common sense.
Few English teachers try to instill in their students a respect for grammar as a gateway to clear thinking.
Few science teachers bother to show their students how they might apply what they learn in the classroom to creative problem-solving in daily life.
Facts — give them facts! that is the cry. Cram as much data as possible into their perspiring heads in the hope that, if the student has any common sense left in him by the time he graduates, he’ll know what to do with that mountain of information he’s been forced to ingest during his undergraduate years.
This tendency to confuse knowledge with wisdom becomes a habit for the rest of most people’s lives. Seldom has there been a more fact-gathering society than ours is today. And seldom has simple, down-to-earth wisdom been held in lower esteem. One’s most casual utterances must be backed by a wealth of statistics, and supported by as many quotations as possible from the words and opinions of others, for one’s own utterances to receive even a hearing.
Because our society equates education and wisdom itself with mere knowledge, and because we see this accumulation of knowledge as the be-all and end-all of education, we fail to recognize life for the opportunity, the very adventure, that it is: the opportunity to develop ourselves to our full potential as human beings; and the adventure of discovering hitherto unknown facets of our own selves.