Yes, it is true: “Education is what makes us fully human”
- Kamran Mofid
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Philosopher Alain de Botton believes it is wisdom that is key to emotional health and to what makes us human. This was the theme of his presentation when on Wednesday, 10 July 2013 he delivered his thoughts on the very essence of human existence at Jeremy Vine’s Being Human, BBC Radio 2 series. The text of the presentation was then published in NewStatesman on 18 July 2013.
*This Blog is in two parts:
1- Alain de Botton: Education is what makes us fully human
2- Why I agree with Alain de Botton?
Part 1- Alain de Botton: Education is what makes us fully human
“I want to suggest that what makes us fully human is education. Education gets taken seriously in our society. Politicians speak about it constantly, as do other public figures. At the moment, the consensus is that education needs to get better, by which people mean that our exam results have to get more impressive and that we have to become more skilled at competing with other countries, especially China – and particularly in maths. In this account, the point of education is to make you a good worker, able to pull in a good salary and help the GDP of the nation.
This is a great ambition – but is it the only ambition we should have for education? I want to argue that the true purpose of education is to make us fully human. By this, I mean that education should help us with the many ways in which we end up less than we can be. Entering adult life without any technical or professional skills is a disaster, for oneself and society, but there are other, equally problematic ways to be. And the one that interests me is emotional health. I think our education system leaves us woefully unprepared for some of the really big challenges of adult life, which include:
- how to choose a life partner;
- how to manage a relationship;
- how to bring up children;
- how to know ourselves well enough to find a job we can do well and enjoy;
- how to deal with pressures for status;
- how to deal with illness and ageing.
If you took any of these problems to a school or university in the land, the teachers would look a bit scared and tell you to go and talk to a GP or a therapist. There are plenty of insights out there – they’re on websites and in books, films and songs – but rarely are they presented systematically to us. You can be in your late fifties by the time you finally come across stuff you needed to hear in your late teens. That’s a pity. We have constructed an intellectual world in which educational institutions rarely let us ask, let alone answer, the most serious questions of our deeper human nature. We shouldn’t be surprised at the levels of divorce, mental breakdown and sheer unhappiness in the nation. We aren’t taking these issues seriously. It’s very im - portant to know the capital of New Zealand and the constituents of the periodic table, but such facts won’t enable one to sail through life unscathed.
What we need above all is to grow more familiar with the idea of transmitting wisdom down the generations. That’s one of the key roles of education, in my eyes.
The purpose of all education is to spare people time and error. It’s a tool whereby society attempts to teach reliably, within a few years, what it took the very brightest and most determined of our ancestors centuries of painful effort to work out.
We accept this principle when it comes to science. We accept that a university student enrolled today on a physics degree can, in a few months, learn as much as Faraday ever knew – and within a couple of years will be pushing at the outer limits of Einstein’s unified field theory. This same principle tends to meet fierce opposition when it comes to wisdom. Here educationalists often say that wisdom is not something that one person can ever teach another. But it is: there is more than enough information about overcoming folly, greed, lust, envy, pride, sentimentality or snobbishness in the canon of culture. You can find answers in philosophy, literature, history, art and film. But the problem is that this treasury is not sufficiently well filleted and skilfully dissected to get the good material out in time.
No existing secular institution sets out to teach us the art of living. Religions of course have a shot at this – they constantly want to teach us how to run a marriage or find the meaning of life. They are not wrong to do so. It’s just that more and more of us aren’t convinced by their specific explanations. What they are trying to do, however, is hugely important and something that non-believers should learn from.
In my ideal school of the future, you might learn about geography and maths, but you would also be taught about the big challenges of life: how to be a good partner, how to stay sane and how to put the small amount of time we all have on this planet to the best possible use.
These are subjects that we need to monitor with all the manic attention we currently give our maths scores. At the end of the day, they are as important, if not more so, in deciding whether this country will be a flourishing and happy place.”
See the original article:
Jeremy Vine’s Being Human, BBC Radio 2 series
How it Began: My Story and Journey
…“From 1980 onwards, for the next twenty years, I taught economics in universities, enthusiastically demonstrating how economic theories provided answers to problems of all sorts. I got quite carried away by the beauty, the sophisticated elegance, of complicated mathematical models and theories. But gradually I started to have an empty feeling.
I began to ask fundamental questions of myself. Why did I never talk to my students about compassion, dignity, comradeship, solidarity, happiness, spirituality – about the meaning of life? We never debated the biggest questions. Who are we? Where have we come from? Where are we going to?
I told them to create wealth, but I did not tell them for what reason. I told them about scarcity and competition, but not about abundance and co-operation. I told them about free trade, but not about fair trade; about GNP – Gross National Product – but not about GNH – Gross National Happiness. I told them about profit maximisation and cost minimisation, about the highest returns to the shareholders, but not about social consciousness, accountability to the community, sustainability and respect for creation and the creator. I did not tell them that, without humanity, economics is a house of cards built on shifting sands.”…
Theology, Philosophy, Ethics, Spirituality and Economics: A Call to Dialogue
...” The topic which I wish to address here is vast; all I can reasonably hope to do is paint a picture with very broad brushstrokes. I wish to argue that economic and business decisions impact many aspects of our lives, whilst they also raise important moral and ethical concerns which call into question what it is to be a human being. I will argue that decision-makers (contrary to what is mostly practised today) need also to concern themselves with the world of heart, mind and spirit.
Although self-interest is an important source of human motivation, driving the decisions we make in the marketplace every day, those decisions nevertheless have a moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions, because each decision we make affects not only ourselves but others too.”…
Towards an Education Worth Believing In
...” What is education? What is knowledge? What is wisdom? What is a university? What is the source of true happiness and wellbeing? What is the good life? What is the purpose of economic life? What does it mean to be a human being living on a spaceship with finite resources? Is “sustainability” a buzz word? Is it simply in fashion to talk about a sustainable future, a sustainable education? How can the global financial system become more responsive and just? What paths can be recommended to shift the current destructive global political-economic order from one of unrestrained economic growth, profit maximisation and cost minimisation, targets and bonuses to one that embraces material wealth creation, yet also preserves and enhances social and ecological well-being and increases human happiness and contentment? How should we deal with individual and institutionalized greed? What are the requirements of a virtuous economy? What role should universities play in building an integrity-based model of business education? What should be the role of the youth? How might the training of young executives be directed with the intention of supplying insights into the nature of globalisation from its economic, technological and spiritual perspectives, to build supporting relationships among the participants that will lead toward action for the common good within their chosen careers? What needs to happen next for sustainability to become more integrated into the ethos of business schools? What distinct roles should students, business leaders and business schools themselves take in advancing this trend? Who is leading this agenda and what elements of best practice can be shared from their example?”…
From my Foreword to What is a University?
…” The world of knowledge and competence is in a constant state of flux. The same can be said for the universe of visions, aspirations and dreams. Changes are occurring every day on a national and world scale – we are faced with economic globalisation, the revolutions in information technology and biotechnology, growing inequality and social exclusion (leading to a renewed struggle for citizens’ rights), violence of all kinds, environmental pollution and climate change. All of these things are increasing the need for new knowledge and skills, for new scenarios for our global society. Love, courage, honesty, justice, spirituality, religion, altruism, vocation, creativity – life itself – are again becoming major issues.
In today’s largely decadent, money-driven world, the teaching of virtue and building of character are no longer part of the curriculum at our universities. The pursuit of virtue has been replaced by moral neutrality – the idea that anything goes. For centuries it had been considered that universities were responsible for the moral and social development of students, and for bringing together diverse groups for the common good.
In the last few decades, however, and especially since the 1970s, a new generation of educational reformers has been intent on using places of learning, and in particular universities, to solve national and international economic problems. The economic justification for education – equipping students with marketable skills to help countries compete in a global, information-based workplace – has overwhelmed other historically important purposes of education.
The language of business management is now being applied to educational establishments: schools and universities are ‘downsized’ and ‘restructured’, and their staffing is ‘outsourced’. But, if there is a shared national purpose for education, should it be oriented only towards enhancing this narrow vision of a country’s economic success? Is everything public for sale? Should education be answerable only to the ‘bottom line’? Are the interests of individuals and selective groups overwhelming the common good that the education system is meant to support?”…
Why Happiness Should be Taught at Our Universities?
…” I believe that our education in universities is fundamentally ill-balanced. Of course exams matter greatly - they are the passport to an individual's future work and career. A university which fails to let every student achieve the best grades and results of which their students are capable of is failing to do its job properly. But education is far more than this. It is far more than grades and percentages here and there.
As a university lecturer with many years of experience, I have seen far too many tortured and unhappy students who have achieved very high grades. If they can achieve these grades while leading balanced lives, taking part in a wide variety of activities which will develop different facets of their character, and if they blossom as happy and contented human beings, then all is well and good. But as any teacher will know, this isn't always the case with high achievers. Neither is it with high achievers in life. These driven people see their lives flash by in fast living and fast cars, and most fail to realise they are missing the point of life. Is it more important to be highly “successful”, or to be a respected colleague and a valued friend, and a loving parent whose children grow up in a secure environment in which they know they are valued and treasured? I have had to learn the hard way myself, the answers are obvious. Hence the need to teach happiness while at schools and universities…
Today the university students lead very destructively competitive lives, which is all about the highest grades, finding the best jobs, the one that gives them more, the best position, highest bonuses, etc. It is all about the best, the most, the highest, and all measured in monetary terms. This is for all practical reasons a rat race. Here we can, if we ever needed to, see why we need courses in happiness and well-being, inner peace and contentment. A pertinent question at this time is: “How can we dampen the impact of the rat race?”. We have to start from human nature as it is, but we can also affect values and behaviour through the signals our institutions send out. An explicit focus on happiness would change attitudes to many aspects of policy, including in education and training, regional policy and performance-related pay, the dreaded and destructive bonus-inspired culture that has made money the main measurement of success and happiness.
The goal should be to help our students lead happier lives, not in the sense of experiencing pleasure - of moving from one immediate gratification to the next - but in the sense of leading a meaningful and fulfilling life, of flourishing emotionally, spiritually and intellectually.”…
“Education of My Dream”
” Dr. Kamran Mofid, founder of the Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative, spoke at the invitation of the Youth Time and the World Public Forum Dialogue of Civilisations (WPFDC) which took place April 16-20, 2011. Mofid delivered a series of plenary speeches as well as a student-led seminar on “Education of My Dream” at Moscow State University and Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of the MFA of Russia.”
..."In the spring of 2000 an interesting dichotomy between theory and reality in economics teaching appeared in France when economics students from some of the most prestigious universities, including the Sorbonne, published a petition on the internet urging fellow students to protest against the way economics was being taught. They were against the domination of rationalist theories, the marginalization of critical and reflective thought and the use of increasingly complex mathematical models. Some argued that the drive to make economics more like physics was flawed, and that it should be wrenched back in line with its more social aspects."