Education should be one of our core values. By education I don’t necessarily mean the acquisition of a degree, however; education takes all shapes and forms. Simply being alive and experiencing life as we do every day is worthy of the name education. We receive an education when we interact with others, and we receive an education when we do independent research. Formal schooling is a different beast entirely, and it’s unfortunate that our society equates diplomas and degrees with intelligence, since obtaining a piece of paper has nothing to do with intelligence at all. Albert Einstein himself said, “I never let my education interfere with my learning.” He also told us that “everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” This practice of judging everyone based on the same criteria is a major flaw in the education system, for which many children suffer unnecessarily.
From the day we enter into the education system, we are made to feel as if getting good grades means we are smart, and not getting good grades means we are not. In many ways, however, good grades are simply a measure of obedience. The list of problems plaguing the education system is extensive. Not only do we measure intelligence using narrow parameters, we also ignore and fail to nurture emotional intelligence. This is something many of us have felt, and it was good to see the Dalai Lama bring up this issue in a recent Facebook post. On May 16th, he wrote:
Modern education with its focus on material goals and a disregard for inner values is incomplete. There is a need to know about the workings of our minds and emotions. If we start today and make an effort to educate those who are young now in inner values, they will see a different, peaceful, more compassionate world in the future. (source)
This really gets at the heart of the matter. Modern day education focuses almost exclusively on material goals. From the day we are born, we are shown how the world (supposedly) works and what we need to do to make our way through it. These things include gaining a piece of paper (degree), mostly through memorization, in order to make more pieces of paper so we can have a roof over our heads and put food into our mouths. As a result, we never develop the ability to think critically, and we never learn to question the world around us. Indeed, questioning authority and the status quo are discouraged at every turn. We are instead encouraged to follow identical paths, with material wealth being the marker of our success on this path. The worst part about it is that many people feel like ‘failures’ or ‘unsuccessful’ if they are not able to reach this level of wealth, and fear being perceived as not smart, educated, or successful as a result.
This unreasonable fear is one example of the ‘inner workings’ the Dalai Lama is speaking about. Modern day schooling disregards, and even discourages, emotional development. It does not teach a child how to deal with their ego, how to recognize their own behavioural patterns, and the result is that most adults cannot even recognize when their actions are being driven by suppressed emotions. It does not teach self awareness. It does not teach children how to handle intense emotion or even that having emotions is okay. It does not teach them about humility, about letting go, about how to manage stress, or about the importance of self love and self care, and it does not teach them about the positive effect self love can have on their life and on the lives of those around them.
If we were taught these important things about life rather than being left to learn them on as adults, if ever, our world would be a much more peaceful and compassionate place, as the Dalai Lama himself says.
Chasing material wealth rather than nurturing the self also makes us incapable of listening to our own hearts. We are forced into obedience and to do things a certain way, and we learn quickly that to do otherwise will have serious consequences. In my opinion, school teaches many how to be followers, but few how to be leaders.
All those years of being unable to say ‘no’ forces us into conformity, and, according to Dr. Kelly M. Flanagan, a licensed clinical psychologist, this has dire consequences for our agency in the world:
When we can’t say “No,” we become a sponge for the feelings of everyone around us and we eventually become saturated by the needs of everyone else while our own hearts wilt and die. We begin to live our lives according to the forceful shouldof others, rather than the whispered, passionate want of our own hearts. We let everyone else tell us what story to live and we cease to be the author of our own lives. We lose our voice — we lose the desire planted in our souls and the very unique way in which we might live out that desire in the world. We get used by the world instead of being useful in the world. (source)
Our education system needs to focus less on making everybody the same and more on nurturing the individual. The problem is, individuals have opinions, and as John. D Rockefeller himself said, he “wants a nation of workers, not thinkers.” It is in the interests of many to manufacture a working class that does not think for itself. When we are forced to work ourselves to exhaustion simply in order to survive, we have no time to worry about bigger issues, like the environment or corporate greed. We can do much better than this. We are infinite potential and we have amazing solutions for almost all of our problems. One thing is for sure, if our school system does not start to teach these ‘inner values,’ our children will continue to focus on material wealth and look for happiness in external things. They will not learn to consider their emotions and those of other people, or how to manage the stresses of life.