The Essence of Education
ISSUE OF CONCERN
IT'S A MISSION TO ENLIGHTEN HUMAN MINDS, NOT AN INDUSTRY TO MAKE MONEY, WRITES AARZOO KHAN
Socrates was once asked by someone, “What is the difference between an educated man and an uneducated man”; and the truth-seeker replied, “The same as between a living man and a dead body”. The significance of education comes forth amply in the following adage: Education is a companion that no misfortune can depress, no crime can destroy, no enemy can alienate, no despotism can enslave. At home - a friend; abroad - an introduction; in society - an ornament; in solitude - a solace. It chastens vice, it guides virtue, and at once lends grace and government to genius. Without it, what is man? A splendid slave, a reasoning savage.
There are diverse perceptions about the nature and purpose of education. For Socrates, the key to education lies in the cliché – “I don’t know”; i.e. education begins with the denying of both truth and untruth so as to arrive at truth personally. Plato, in ‘The Republic’, says - “Let our artist-teachers rather be those - who are gifted to discern the true nature of the graceful and the beautiful; then will our youth dwell in a land of health, amid fair sights and sounds, and beauty, the affluence of fair works, shall flow into the eyes and ears, like a health giving breeze from a purer region and draw the soul insensibly from the earliest years into likeness and sympathy with the beauty of reason”. According to Bertrand Russell, “Knowledge yielded by love is what the educator needs, and what his pupils should acquire”. Aristotle’s ‘magnanimous man’ does not possess the quality of ‘humblesness of mind’ which has been necessitated by Dr. Arnold. Kant and Nietzsche do not regard Christianity to be the ideal for while Jesus enjoins love, Kant advocates that an action of which love is the motive can’t be truly righteous. For Fernand Braudel, simplicity - which is clarity – is the essence of education. Some, like Machiavelli and Brutus, put duty towards the State prior to family and society; and some others, like Confusious and Zoraster, place family affection and social obligation first. Even the religious scriptures enjoin the followers to seek knowledge. Other than the names of Allah, the word ‘ilm’ occurs oftener in Quran than any other abstract term. That incident - when Prophet Moses held the stick, it became a staff (a support, a weapon, a symbol of authority), but when he threw it away, it became a serpent – highlights the fact that knowledge should be sought as an end in itself, and not as a means to any other end. If we seek knowledge of its own sake, it enlightens us and illuminates our path; but if we acquire it for earning money or fame, then it becomes venomous and drives poison into our very soul.
To understand the significance of education, we must first know what education is. Education does not mean being merely literate though it is intrinsically connected to literacy. It has a very profound meaning. Education is not merely an ability to read and write the script of some particular language - it is an ability to give meaning to words. It is not plain knowledge – it is an acquisition of the art of the utilization of knowledge. It is not simple understanding – it is the skill to understand the sophisticated simply. It is not merely consciousness – it is the state of being conscious of the difference between the ‘self’ and the ‘other’. Education is innately associated with the process of thinking, and together they create a certain level of awareness of the world we live in, and this, in turn, brings about the maturation of immature minds. Education is an activity of thought, the playfulness of creativity, the openness to beauty and humane feeling, and a merely well-informed person is the most useless creature on God’s earth.
Education moulds, polishes and refines the crude. It adds elegance to what was previously rough, it gives technique to what was earlier chaotic, it crafts meaning in what was previously inane. An educated person does not want to be thought good; but he wants to be good. He does not want to be praised as a good doctor; but he want to cure people. He seeks character – not reputation; contentment – not wealth; self-respect – not prestige; ability – not friendship; competence – not nepotism, love as an entity – not a relationship anchored to zilch. Humility, beautifully defined by Needham, is a willingness to give ‘others’ the benefit of doubt, to be ready to learn from them and, in short, a refusal to say the ‘we are the people’ and that ‘wisdom was born with us’. Education, by teaching us this virtue of humility, makes us human(-e) beings in the true meaning of the term. Education elevates our character, illuminates our soul, broadens our thinking and widens our vision. It teaches us tolerance and encourages differences. Education opens the vast plethora of literature before us, the study of which builds our intellect as well as our character. Education is, according to Dr Zakir Hussain, “the individualized revivification of objective culture” as it acquaints us with a variety of civilizations and cultures, and enables us to pick and choose their best attributes and incorporate them in our thoughts and actions. Verily, man is nothing but a barbarian if he has not been shaped by the caress of education.
Education teaches us the skill to discriminate. Here, discriminate doesn’t mean dividing things into black and white, but it means the ability to analyze both sides of a coin. It teaches us to differentiate between the ‘right’ and the ‘wrong’ – something that is the pre-requisite of modern democratic systems. In his book “Will to Power”, Nietzsche says that every human being persistently endeavour’s to acquire power and prestige. Democracy amplifies this instinct into an unappeasable desire. The democracy that we have is far from what we ought to have idyllically, and this is precisely because of popular ignorance. If we turn the pages of history, we find that we are experimenting with democracy for the second time. Earlier it was in vogue in the Greco-Roman period but due to mass illiteracy, inept leaders and rampant political corruption, it met its end. This leaves us with the lesson that if our education system is not taken care of - every democratic state will eventually collapse under its own weight. This is the reason why Thucydides and Thomas Hobbes were not in favour of democracy.
It is a tragedy that education which actually is a sacred mission has become a business and an industry. Nowadays, when there is so much emphasis on preserving world peace, force cannot be used openly to subjugate people and rule over them. An alternative is found in Gramsci’s concept of hegemony. Hegemony, in simplest words, may be defined as political, intellectual and ethical leadership. The essence of the concept of hegemony is the appropriation of culture by the colonizer for the sake of social control. Cultural imperialism works by consent; and it can be established through various means of which the most imperative is the institution of education. Cultural assimilation, says Gauri Vishwanathan, is a result of colonial education and cultural assimilation is the most effective form of political action. Education in a colony is a part of the over-all imperialistic policy of the colonizer. It is designed solely to legitimize dominance and to serve the selfish interests of the colonizers. It does not aspire to bring about progressive changes the colony, but to control it. Colonial education is meant to draw the colonized people away from their indigenous culture, and to lure them towards the culture of the colonizer by annihilating the colonized people’s confidence in their names, their history, their language, their culture, their traditions, their capabilities, and ultimately, in themselves. It makes the subjugated people see their past as a wasteland of non-achievement. It promotes learning by memorization and proof by authority; thereby killing the spirit of inquiry and critical analyses. In this way, education which ought to being about the over-all development of individuals - develops lack of identity, absence of self-reliance and a sense of limited past.
Education is an art, a skill, a path and a tool to recognize, shape and refine the youth. But such an endeavour can be beneficial only when the purpose behind it is to bring about the all-round development of the youth. Only then can education activate the dormant potential within the youth, and only then can the youth harness the power cultivated in them through education. It is high time that we inculcate in our youth the aptitude and the confidence to think critically and take risks. The great German educationist - Georg Kerschensteiner has rightly said, “We must replace the educational places from places of theoretical intellectual one-sidedness into places of practical human many-sidedness, from places of individual self-seeking into those of social well being, from places of mere acquisition of knowledge to those of its right use”. The old is dead, and if we don’t give birth to the new – we too shall die with it!
(Aarzoo Khan is from the Department of history, University of Kashmir. Feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Lastupdate on : Wed, 19 May 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Wed, 19 May 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Thu, 20 May 2010 00:00:00 IST
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