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On Education — Written July 4th, 2001 at Ilorin, Nig.

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OBVIOUSLY harassed and overburdened by the demands of a teaching job, the American critic, satirical poet and short-story writer Dorothy Parker, once cynically said that education is "casting sham pearls before real swine." Elsewhere, we read in Mwangi Ruheni’s The Future Leaders a more comely definition of education, where he says "education means not only being able to tell what goes wrong, but also why it goes wrong." But I think I like Thomas Henry Huxley’s definition even more than the literary or dictionary definition of education. He once defined an educated man in the following famous passage:

"That man, I think, has had a liberal education who has been so trained in youth that his body is the ready servant of his will, and does with ease and pleasure all the work that, as a mechanism, it is capable of; whose intellect is a clear, cold, logic engine, with all its parts of equal strength, and in smooth working order; ready, like a steam engine, to be put to any kind of work, and spin the gossamer as well as forge the anchors of the mind; whose mind is stored with a knowledge of the great fundamental truths of Nature and the laws of her operations; one who, no stunted ascetic, is full of life and fire, but whose passions are trained to come to heel by a vigorous will, the servant of a tender conscience, who has learned to love all beauty, whether of Nature or of art, to hate all vileness, and to respect others as himself."
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Now if you ask me, I’d tell you with much glee that I whole-heartedly subscribe to Huxley’s definition, for it is comprehensive (perhaps all-inclusive) enough to merit practical acceptance for the purpose and level of this paper. Yes I do.

To many of us however, the definition of education does not even get anywhere near the purview of Huxley’s all-inclusive domain of liberal education. We are so far off the tangent of understanding what true education really means, mainly because the regularized patterns of going to school from the nurseries through to acquisition of university degrees and post-graduate qualifications define full education for many of us. And although most certificates are awarded on the understanding that the student had been found worthy both in learning and in character (at least that is what we do see written on those certificates), yet the real emphasis all this while has always been on the acquisition of scholarly facts rather than on an open-ended approach to the demands of real-life situations. We do see a greater emphasis on the recycling of facts rather than the enlargement of knowledge. We do see a clouding of consciousness with the coarse smog of dated academic oddments of all sorts rather than an intensification and refinement of consciousness through unfettered, independent exploration of thought and of the inner workings of the mind. In short, the emphasis of the system has been on making the student an element of statistical relevance rather than an individual whose overall character has been appropriately built and refined in readiness for a wholesome life ahead in the wider world.

This is not to say that our educational systems should be replaced by another system; but learning things by mechanical conventions within a rigid curricular precinct alongside other peers of about the same age bracket is purely schooling, not education. The aim of education strikes home a much more deeper significance than the way we make things go at the moment. This is what needs to be realized, so that as truly educated people, our attitudes and responses to changing situations may improve accordingly.

Education cannot necessarily be the same as learning some pre-defined theoretical mysteries, neither is it even synonymous with attending school over a period of time. No. It has to be a lot more comprehensive than that; it has to encompass the more inclusive and continuous process of understanding the great themes of life’s experiences and the subsequent efficiency, or otherwise, with which the individual comes to terms with those experiences as s/he continues to make the most out of life while putting in the most that s/he can contribute to life. Anything short of this is definitely not education, but casting Dorothy Parker’s sham pearls before real swine.

Enlightened individuals should not find it difficult to subscribe to the more agreeable traits and processes that define a truly educated man or woman. Anything less than our enlightened definitions of education as adapted from Huxley above becomes a way of moulding individuals into the most convenient patterns for social manipulation rather than a way of preparing them for the challenges of life. Chignell points this out in a more forthright view when we read from his Handbook on Christian Responsibility:

"Education must be based on the worth of the individual (child) and in helping that child to the fullest development of its personality, through rational and compassionate means. It should also be concerned to equip young people with the mental, emotional or physical tools to make the most out of life. The young should be given encouragement, training and example to develop skills and aptitudes which will enrich not only the person involved but the community as well..."

So, there we can once again see a clear picture of well-rounded education. An individual who has had the sort of education we have on ground today may at best be able to live a heuristic rather than a decisively definitive life B they can at best live a life of trial and error in dealing with situations.

But anyone who is trained according to Huxley’s definition, which Chignell also supports, is the individual who can easily adapt to any life situation not by tentative trial and error but by virtue of a settled conviction concerning the great issues of our times. Such a person can be left alone unto himself/herself in any given situation, only to come back and see that the fellow has neither wavered nor despaired, neither compromised his/her fundamental convictions nor depreciated in value or quality of thought while adapting to life’s uncertain changes.

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Surely, this sort of attribute comes only out of going through life in a wide variety of experiences that include our relationships with books and with people, with leisure and with work, with abundance and with adversity, with pleasure and with pain, with travelling and with meditation, with Nature and with Art, with the mystery of love and with the misery of heartbreaks, with beauty, with music, with poetry, with mystical ecstasy, with all things that are fundamental, all things that are most profoundly significant to the human spirit; and with much many more and with much, much more.

Yes, true education primarily comes only out of being in touch with all possible experiences of life, and not just out of being in touch with the ivory towered corridors of academic institutions alone.

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"Education means not only being able to tell what goes wrong, but also why it goes wrong."