HUFFINGTON POST CONTRIBUTOR
The End of Education is Not a Wall
07/26/2016 07:45 am ET
Dr. Ronne Marantz, principal (retired) Scarsdale, NY, author of the Dharma of Education.
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I’m not the only educator to wonder if education as we know it has gotten lost in the furious race to the top in which the world finds itself without asking, “What’s at the top?” And when we get there, would I be able to look around and say, “What a beautiful view?”
As early as the twentieth century John Dewey (1859-1952), the father of modern education, wondered whether an educational system conducted by a national state could fulfill the natural ends to which education must strive, positing that “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” What is meant by “life itself”? That’s the really big question when thinking about the end of education. What is really important in life? How do I attain that? What does it mean ‘to be human’?
Dewey suggested that: “Education is a science, the science of the formation of character,” which he defined as, “a measure of mental power, mastery of truths and laws, love of beauty … strong human sympathy and … moral rectitude.” Many educators and philosophers have provided definitions of character. All point to the understanding that character is dynamic and transformative, not merely a goal one reaches or a fixed state one is born to or acquires.
Robert Coles (1929–), Harvard professor of psychiatry and medical humanities, recipient of the Medal of Freedom and a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, defines character as “… a process, not a possession, but something one searches for: a quality of mind and heart one struggles for …”
It is interesting that a philosopher like John Dewey would define education as a science. Today science has proliferated all kinds of methods and tools for everything, including learning. That’s good, if as a species, we have also paid attention to our development as human beings, to the development of the moral consciousness and discipline needed to use the tools we create to right ends.
We have far more information and knowledge now than a hundred years ago. Since we know more about how to teach and how children learn then ever before education ought to be evolving to higher ground. If there’s a wall blocking the panoramic view that is both outside and within me, then something is wrong. If we’re going to help our children get to the top we need to think about what we want them to see, feel, know and be by the time they get there.
If we are going “to shift to a new level of consciousness” and reach the “higher moral ground” of which Wangari Maathai spoke in her 2004 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech — and we must if we are going to thrive in the 21st century — it is essential that we shift our thinking from ‘education’ as something that leads to earning a living to education as transformation – for life itself.
Having spent 35 years as an educator in diverse capacities: as a principal, Special Education and English Second Language teacher, staff developer, and consultant to the United Nations Human Values in Water, Sanitation, and Health Education, I have witnessed the daunting challenges faced by educators in the United States and abroad who aspire to ‘nurture the goodness’ in children and youth; who want to see them thrive.
In spite of 50 years of educational research and some excellent innovations, something went missing. We are learning that what is needed is not only structural and curricular change, but also a shift to the conscious awareness of the interdependence and unity of life.
A wall is defined as a continuous brick, stone, wood, or metal structure that encloses or divides. That cannot be what is at the top. Human beings have unlimited abilities and capacities waiting to be tapped and inspired. Spiders are programmed to spin a web and beavers to build a dam. That’s what they do. Human beings can also spin webs and build walls; it seems we’ve been doing a lot of that.
What we have to do now is find our way to steward the balance of environmental and economic interests, place a ceiling on our desires, ensure that human needs are met and their rights protected, and find ways to move forward together on this now irrevocably interdependent planet.
A shift in perspective from education to education as ‘educare’ (Latin, to draw out) could do that.
What is it that we would need to draw out? Dewey’s answer was – and is,character.’ Human beings, not any other known life form, have the capacity to manifest the fundamental human values, the character, needed for life itself.Education has to strive to that end: human excellence of the extraordinary kind, given the extraordinary speed with which our world is increasingly faced with moral dilemmas never before imagined. It is, in fact, imperative that we focus on human excellence, which in a word is character, if we want to fulfill our human potential and be able to say, “What a beautiful view.”