Wilier rogues? Cleverer crooks? Or well-rounded citizens urgently trying to skill themselves up to contribute to making the world a better place? As educators, we have to ensure we are the catalysts for the development of fully human human beings.
Aristotle was clear: ‘Education of the mind without education of the heart is no education at all.’ And educators ever since have been battling to ensure that education moves humanity forwards not backwards. If knowledge is power, those in the business of facilitating the acquisition of that knowledge need to be making sure that they put that power in the right hands and help those acquiring the knowledge understand their enormous responsibility to use that knowledge well. The imperative for values-led education with the pursuit of wisdom and not just knowledge on its own as its goal has never been more urgently required than it is now.
As an uneducated member of society, generally it is hard to have one’s voice heard; one’s sphere of influence is limited. Accordingly, a good guy who is uneducated will only be able to use his kindness to affect small numbers of people and an uneducated bad guy will, in general, only be able to damage fairly small numbers of people. However, as one acquires skills and knowledge, one’s sphere of influence grows and the potential to do good or bad grows with it. I would prefer to have no part in educating those who then go on to use their education to further damage their society but how can that be ensured? How can we make sure that we help those who will use their education for good?
How can we make sure that the education we facilitate is so clearly values-led that all those emerging from our classrooms are going to build not destroy, going to create harmony and understanding and refuse ignorance and prejudice; going to burn with the desire to see the lot of their fellows improve; going to understand that refusing the humanity of another denies and stifles their own humanity?
The problems are clear. What are the solutions?
From my perspective, educators have an extraordinary responsibility to stand up and play their part in the desperately needed change. This is a responsibility and also a privilege. What other group of people have the opportunity to have a greater impact on the future of our global society?
For too long has the focus of education been to prepare someone for economic usefulness alone. Yes, of course, we want citizens able to ‘earn their bread’. Yes, of course, we want everyone to be contributing not freeloading but it is a complete non-sequitur to think that, because poverty is bad, all wealth is good. If my wealth acquisition jeopardises your rights and humanity, it is not ok. If, as I climb the education ladder, all I do is pass my poverty on to somebody else in order to escape deprivation myself, it is not ok. If all I do is ‘jump camp’, from being oppressed to being an oppressor, I have not gained true education and I will not serve my community. I have, at best, acquired some qualifications.
Whether we teach sciences or arts; primary, secondary or tertiary; in the global south or the global north; wherever we are, there must be a concern to help our learners put the knowledge and skills they gain to a positive use, for us to be able to really say that we are supporting the development of fully human human beings.
Paulo Freire argues that oppressors are as dehumanised by oppression as the oppressed. We must make sure that our education is humanising for all. The only way this is possible is through teaching critical thinking, empathy, creating opportunity for building community spirit, thinking through the impact of one’s actions in the short and long term as well as on yourself and others.
So, what can we do?
EducAid has values at the heart of everything it does, seeking to refocus our students’ priorities and help them engage in a new paradigm for success. If success is defined in $ signs, cars, houses and material possessions, then it doesn’t matter how we achieve our goal. People will get hurt in the process. If success is defined in how many people we are having a positive impact on, then we have a different reason for pursuing excellence in our academic work.
EducAid’s motto is St Augustine’s ‘Love and do as you will’. If first we love, then we will choose behaviours that seek to build others and will not sacrifice others to our own ambition.