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Education for Life

We all need enlightenment to become integrated with a complex society.  The education we get lasts for life; its influences - good or bad - stay with us forever. On one level, we learn facts/information (the cognitive domain). On another level, we develop our souls and become nicer more balanced people (the affective domain.  We learn through a process of osmosis, by imitating or following examples – called modelling.  As Oscar Wilde said: “..that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught”.  We have to learn from our own mistakes.

Education does not consist of memorising facts or accumulating knowledge; it is more about fostering  greater inquisitiveness, intellectual curiosity, truth-seeking and confidence in reasoning.

The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes declares that “there is nothing new under the sun”.  Everything we know has been discovered before and as Newton/Einstein said, “we are all pygmies standing on the shoulders of giants.”   An educated person becomes aware of the richness of the past and respects the inherited wisdom of history.  Being well read indicates an open mind and perception of life beyond the narrow parochial and pedestrian lives we live.  This does not mean accepting all authority without question, but we should have historical awareness.

A broad liberal education is more than job training.  It is a vista into the great questions of what it means to be a human being.  This is what all mankind has been looking for throughout the ages. John Stuart Mill maintained the object of Universities was not to make skilful lawyers, physicians, or engineers, but capable and cultivated human beings.”

Cultures are formed and transmitted by varied means by our ancestors, both immediate and long past.  The shared values, customs and beliefs are imbued into our psyches. The lessons of the past must be learned in order to avoid repetition so that we learn to identify with our shared inheritance. 

With the decline of the credibility and authority of established religion, mass media, entertainment and advertising have triumphed.  These are not interested in controlling our primal impulses, rather indulging them, reinforcing self serving consumption as a means to happiness and self fulfillment. Hedonism and materialism supplanted spiritual values.

Each new generation seems to have to learn for themselves the limitations and ephemeral nature of their power.  Most feel that somehow they are immune or resistant to the lessons of the past.  As Eric Hobsbawm pointed out in The Age of Extremes:

The rupture between contemporary experience and the labours of earlier generations was one of the most characteristic and eerie phenomena of the latter part of the 20th century.  Most young people grow up in a sort of permanent present, lacking any organic relationship to the public past of the times they live in.

Believing that we know everything, we have nothing to learn - we can now believe in nothing. Others claim we could solve our modern distress only with recovered ancient wisdom.

There are a variety of names for those who impart education to others.

Professor, pedagogue, instructor, master, governess, lecturer, mentor, pedant, fellow, don, reader, emeritus, teacher, tutor, guru, counsellor, coach, guide, adviser, educator, 

Although they all mean ‘teacher’ each name has a slightly different connotation.

Epistemology is the study of knowledge and its validity while heuristics is how we learn.  Most of us begin by learning from others, watching, listening and reading from authority figures until we begin to forge out on a voyage of discovery to learn by the more scientific methods of experiments called empiricism.  The Socratic method refers to both questioning all presumptions and attempting to attain knowledge by dialectic discussions.  It was by asking questions rather than by telling.  The purpose of education is not to teach students “what” to think; rather “how” to think.  Oscar Wilde’s pertinent but cynical observation;

         Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.

An autodidact is a person who has learned a subject without the benefit of a teacher or formal education; a self-taught person.  To really learn something we need to experience it.  Pain, suffering and failure are the sternest teachers.  As Will Rogers points out:  Three kinds of men; Those who learn by reading, those who learn by observation, and the rest, who have to pee on the electric fence by themselves.

Unfortunately many educators merely use their position to attempt to replicate themselves by indoctrinating or teaching their students everything they know as if it came from Mount Sinai. 

If we want narrow, functionalist, competitive, Naplan results then we need more regimentation, centralised structures, however if we require holistic well rounded and inspired students we need to empower our teachers with valued support and respect.

American slam poet and teacher Taylor Mali:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGKm201n-U4

Riposte to lawyer who ridiculed him for how little he got paid with “those who can, do: those who can’t, teach”. 

I’ll tell you what I make – that can’t be measured in dollars and cents.

I make my students work harder than they thought they could.

I make a C+ sound like a Congressional medal of honour and an A-, a slap in the face.

I make parents tremble in fear when I call home at around dinner time to tell them their son stood up to the biggest bully in class in the noblest act of courage I have ever seen.

I make kid wonder.  I make them question.  I make them criticise….I make a goddamn difference.

Now what do you make?

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The human element is vitally important. Books, experiences, encyclopaedias, the internet via computers, ipods/ipads or androids can all be invaluable accessories, nothing can replace an inspiring role model.  “The average student today has more information at their fingertips than an elite scholar had twenty years ago.”  However, Niall Clugston of Crikey.com warns of IT idolatry: The internet is not the answer to every question. It is the human element, or as Albert Einstein put it “the personal contact with those who teach that primarily constitutes and preserves culture”.    Henry  Adams noted,  “A teacher affects eternity; you can never tell where his influence stops”

Teachers compete against powerful and seductive media forces, where semi-literate sporting heroes or vacuous celebrities’ values rule or the banal simplicities of foul mouthed media personalities are given more prominence than cogent articulate debate.   

Educational Jargon

Sometimes jargon simply stultifies public discourse (sorry about that!)  In real language it puts people to sleep and allows the speaker time to evade the issue long enough for us to forget.  According to Don Watson, managerial language stifles thinking and makes sure no one can think in real terms.  “Schools write reports that leave parents wondering if the outcomes …are outcomes for their children or for the educators”.   

He cites a recent evaluation by the Australian Council for Educational Research:

Direct instruction was having a positive impact on student outcomes, but the researchers were not yet able to tell whether or not the initiative has had any impact on student learning”.

Watson claims this passage has no sensible meaning, there is no movement, no flesh or bone or blood – it is lifeless.

Some historical quotes on Education:

‘Do not train boys to learning by force and harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so they may be the better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.’  Plato 427—347 B.C.

The aim of education should be to teach us how to think rather than what to think.’    Beattie 1735 - 1803

The object of Universities is “not to make skilful lawyers, physicians, or engineers, but capable and cultivated human beings.”       John Stuart Mill 1867

Charles Dickens shared the belief of all leading Victorian reformers that more and better education was requisite if the lower classes were to be helped to better their condition; but he also perceived that the delegated authorities used educational reform as an excuse for regimenting the minds of pupils, indoctrinating them with class prejudice and instilling an uncritical acceptance of debased values.    Charles Dickens  1812 – 1870

‘States should spend money and effort on this great all-under lying matter of education as they have hitherto spent it on beating and destroying each 0ther.’       John Galsworthy 1867—1933

‘I believe that the school is primarily a social institution. Education being a social process, the school is simply that form of community life in which all these agencies are concentrated that will be most effective in bringing the child to share in the inherited resources of the race, and to use his own powers for social ends.’        John. Dewey 1856-1952

A university education should produce men and women who can understand the world, write and speak coherently, identify a poem, a painting or distinguish a symphony from a jingle.  Robin Batterham former Australian chief Scientist

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops”       Henry  Adams

The mediocre teacher tells, the good teacher explains, the superior teacher demonstrates, the great teacher inspires.     William Arthur Ward

Education is that which remains when you have forgotten everything you learned.  Source ??

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Children begin by loving their parents; after a time they judge them; rarely, if ever, do they forgive them. 

Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.

Everybody who is incapable of learning has taken to teaching.

Examinations:  The foolish ask questions, the wise cannot answer. 

If you think education is expensive; try ignorance.     Oscar Wilde

Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding and understanding is not wisdom.

Aldous Huxley was concerned about the detrimental effects of science and technology disempowering and enslaving mankind rather than freeing them to enjoy wide ranging human experiences and emotions and enriching their lives.  In the words of the author:” The theme of Brave New World is not the advancement of Science;…it is the advancement of science as it affects human individuals.  Huxley is concerned about technology’s effect on critical and creative thinking.  Rather than teaching students what to think, they need to be taught how to think.

Aldous Huxley- Education on the Non-Verbal Level

Even on the verbal level, where they are most at home, educators have done a good deal less than they might reasonably have been expected to do in explaining to young people the nature, the limitations, the huge potentialities for evil as well as for good, of that greatest of all human inventions, language, Children should be taught that words are indispensable but also can be fatal - the only begetters of all civilization, all science, all consistency of high purpose, all angelic goodness, and the only begetters at the same time of all superstition, all collective madness and stupidity, all worse-than-bestial diabolism, all the dismal historical succession of crimes in the name of God, King, Nation, Party, Dogma. Never before, thanks to the techniques of mass communication, have so many listeners been so completely at the mercy of so few speakers. Never have misused words - those hideously efficient tools of all tyrants, warmongers, persecutors, and heresy-hunters - been as widely and so disastrously influential as they are today. Generals, advertisers, and all the rulers of totalitarian states — all have good reason for disliking the idea of universal education in the rational use of language. To the military, propagandist, and authoritarian mind such training seems, (and rightly seems) profoundly subversive. To those who think that liberty is a good thing, and who hope that it may some day become possible for more people to realise more of their desirable) potentialities In a society fit for free, fully human individuals to live in, a thorough education the nature of language, in its uses and abuses, seems indispensable. Whether in fact the mounting pressures of over-population and over-organization in a world still enthusiastically dedicated to nationalistic Idolatry will permit this kind of subversive linguistic education to be adopted by even the more democratic nations remains to be seen,

A. Huxley “Education on the non-verbal level.”

Einstein believed that “imagination was more important than reason”  “Logic gets you from A to B, but imagination gets you everywhere”.

Alain de Botton Acknowledges theories of modern education after seeing how deep seated feelings of anxiety in childhood classrooms remained with people after decades. You say “the weight accorded to ideas of nurture and to the development of self-esteem in theories of modern education no longer seemed like a sign that our societies had gone mad or soft.” (p122)

At one level, we want to teach kids facts/information. At another level, we want to educate their souls and make them nicer more balanced people.

The second task used to be done in the home and by religions. Nowadays it’s frequently not done at all.

The harsh truth is that if you went to any university in the country and said that you had come to study ‘how to live’ or ‘how to become a better and wiser person’, you would be politely shown the door – if not the way to an asylum. Universities nowadays see it as their job to train you either in a very specific career (like law, medicine) or to give you a grounding in arts subjects like literature or history – but for no identifiable reason, beyond the vague and unexamined notion that three years studying medieval literature may be a good idea.

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The great American historian and teacher Howard Zinn, was a champion of public education. His textbook A People's History of the United States challenged the propaganda of established power that claimed democracy as a gift from the top, not fought for by us.

"I wanted my students," he wrote, "to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it”.

 This, of course, is a recipe for “trouble"; those who challenge authority tend to suffer for it.

Success in life does not necessarily come from prizes. What is important is the person you are, the kindness you express, the compassion you feel and the courage you show. Go into the world and relinquish the safety of silence and make trouble - remembering that the most important trouble is calling to account those who assume power over our lives.

If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.     Zig Ziglar

Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.  Aristotle

History definitely should be taught the way it happened—good, bad or ugly. History is sacred. For me history is a foundation and the truth.   Ruby Bridges

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.   Nelson Mandela

Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education.  Martin Luther King Jr.

The only thing that is more expensive than education is ignorance.  Benjamin Franklin

Empower yourselves with a good education, then get out there and use that education to build a country worthy of your boundless promise.  Michelle Obama

From an edited extract of an address by scourge  journalist and filmmaker John Pilger at a Sydney Boys High School annual speech night.

The road to tyranny is paved with pebbles of silence, fear of others, division, lies, national myths of imaginary threats, and the coarsening of rhetoric.”  Richard Flanagan

The consequences of  complicity

First they came for the Communists,

and I didn’t speak up,  because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Trade unionists,

and I didn’t speak up,  because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,

and I didn’t speak up,  because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics,

and I didn’t speak up, because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for the Singers,

and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a singer.

Then they came for the Authors,

and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t an author.

Then they came for me,  and by that time there was no one

left to speak up for me.                        One of many versions by Rev. Martin Niemoller, 1945

Knowledge and articulation help to empower people and are a rationale for teaching language

A democratic society needs people who have the linguistic abilities which enable them to discuss, evaluate and make sense of what they are told, as well as to take effective action on the basis of their understanding…. Otherwise there can be no genuine participation, but only the imposition of ideas of those who are linguistically capable.    Kingman (1988)

Bernard of Clairveaux: Instruction & upbringing

To Robert, a monk,  I know your heart, I know that you can be led more easily by love than driven by fear. . . for those superiors[monastic teachers] who wish always to inspire fear in their communities and rarely promote their welfare. Learn that you must be mothers to those in your care, not lords; make an effort to arouse the response of love, not of fear; Show affection as a mother would.

Be gentle, avoid harshness, do not resort to blows, expose your breasts: let your bosoms expand with milk not swell with passion.  Sermon on The Song of Songs

When we read we eradicate the illusion of our separateness.  George Saunders

Young people should be encouraged to question all authority and then form their own views; beliefs formed from indoctrination are not well formed.


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