Educating The Whole Person

Addressing the soul as well as the mind

Lecture Hall

In this image I see the next generation of professionals being exposed to the knowledge of the past and unfolding present. I also see the learning process accelerating, facilitated by the rapid and global flow of information technology that empowers many more people to make many more and better connections between content and others than ever before.

Going forward from the industrial revolution, we acquired knowledge about how the human senses, particularly sight and sound can be expanded, improved upon and extended far into the cosmos through the use of microwave and radio telescopes. Intricate surgeries are being successfully performed by robots acting under the control of surgeons at a distance. Animals are being cloned. Innovations in technology are advancing exponentially every year.

Millions of people are communicating globally and simultaneously. I look at this image and wonder if considerations of more and faster are also producing better results. Does more knowledge, better tools and increased capacities result in higher quality—more competent, ethical, responsible and caring human beings? More secure, economically sound and vital societies? In some cases “yes,” in other instances “no.” When it comes to tools of any kind, what matters is how we use them.

Certainly it’s easier, faster and more financially profitable to direct the flow of information and knowledge toward external changes, more so than addressing internal changes, those relating to the qualities of consciousness and character, which are neither sexy nor profitable. Reflecting on these qualities in relation to learning, I wonder what we’re educating for—at every level. And toward what ends should we be applying what we’re learning?

Constructive jobs and the professions are part of it. Wisdom born of hard experience is another part, necessary for intelligence and creativity to be channeled into understanding, improvements, health and well-being. And then there’s knowledge that contributes to personal growth and social development. Might there be less crime and corruption, perhaps even less political polarization, if more people understood the many ways in which all of life is interconnected and interdependent? And that all choices have consequences—for the society, species and environment as well as the individual.

A long time ago, I was a students in this very lecture hall. Back then, we took notes with pad and pen. And the focus was more on the teacher than projected images. Beyond the name of the teacher and the course, I have only a vague memory of the lessons that were taught there. I do, however, vividly remember the teacher and his passion for the subject. He captured our attention, not only because he had expertise and experience in the field we aspired to; he lived it. We listened with rapt attention because he provided the model for what we could expect at the executive level in the broadcast industry. And in my experience it proved to be an accurate assessment.

Years later, as a university professor myself, I learned that education is only partly about the conveyance of knowledge and information. Students can get that on their own. And they will pursue certain subjects when they’re sufficiently motivated to do so. What’s more difficult for them to acquire are the qualities of character that contribute to a life well lived with meaningful contributions, qualities that are best demonstrated rather than talked about.

Technologies in the classroom are essential tools now, particularly for learning the externals—how the world works and what’s needed to enter into it. Equally, perhaps even more, I think attention to the internals, the qualities of thought and character, are essential. And for that we need positive role models—parents, teachers, professionals and leaders in every domain, people who consider their role a vocation, not just a job.

The process of creating intelligence is not merely a question of access to information. Would that learning were as easy as diving into a swimming pool of information or sitting down at a great banquet table for an info-feast. Rather, education, which comes from the Latin educaré, meaning to raise and nurture, is more a matter of imparting values and critical faculties than inputting raw data. Education is about enlightenment, not just access. 

David Shenk, American writer, lecturer and filmmaker

Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs (Click on the pages to turn them)

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