Broadening the mind, freeing the spirit

By Eron Henry. Eron is a communications director, writer and blogger. He lives in Alexandria, USA. Please read his article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

Modern western industrialized society said education should be aimed towards holding down a job and the pursuit of a career. I will not argue the acquisition of a skill for a liveable livelihood, but education limited to just that is parlous. There was a time when education was a broadening of the mind and a feeding of the spirit. It was not necessarily tied to a pecuniary function.

Philosopher John Dewey famously declared, “education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” A similar thought by Civil Rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr. explained that: “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

To reduce education to a mere career or profession devoid of aesthetics and cultural or social awareness was foreign to the best thinkers. Practical negatives accrue to an education that is merely or largely utilitarian. Such education serves no higher end or purpose.

Brazilian Paulo Freire, a late educator and philosopher, called such low-grade teaching and learning the “banking” system of education:

The teacher teaches and the students are taught; the teacher knows everything and the students know nothing; the teacher thinks and the students are thought about; the teacher talks and the students listen – meekly; the teacher disciplines and the students are disciplined; the teacher chooses and enforces his choice, and the students comply; the teacher acts and the students have the illusion of acting through the action of the teacher; the teacher chooses the program content, and the students (who were not consulted) adapt to it; the teacher confuses the authority of knowledge with his own professional authority, which he sets in opposition to the freedom of the students; the teacher is the Subject of the learning process, while the pupils are mere objects.[1]

Freire echoed Jamaican reggae superstar Bob Marley:

Don’t let them fool you

Or even try to school you, Oh! No

We’ve got a mind of our own

So go to hell if what you’re thinking is not right

 

They say what we know

Is just what they teach us

And we’re so ignorant

That every time they can reach us…

 

Well, what we know

Is not what they tell us;

We’re not ignorant, I mean it,

And they just cannot touch us[2]

 

Those with an education that broadens the mind are free souls with a free spirit willing to accept and face challenges as free individuals. Freedom can be, and is often, a painful process. It calls for renewed thinking, a correction in thought when needed and a willingness to embrace new paradigms. This comes only from an education that does not restrict or constrict.

An educated populace, for instance, moves on from voting with its stomach to voting with its heart, mind and spirit. A people who are truly free vote for vision and are not bribed by handouts. A broadened education leans toward character building. Lives may be transformed and a renewal takes place.

In the history of nations, mistakes are made. Leaders fall into error and the people suffer. Nations that progress recognize the road they traveled was not the best. This realization comes through education.

The American Founding Fathers were not perfect and the Constitution and other founding documents were a compromise. But as educated men, they knew or investigated history and drew on Greek philosophy and Roman law, Moses and the biblical Exodus, as well as the European Enlightenment. They had insight born of study and experience on what goes into making a great nation and what can cause a nation to fail.

In the late 1990s, a Philadelphia Inquirer editor and Temple University adjunct professor told a group of us (graduate journalism students), that in hiring reporters his paper did not necessarily look for those with a journalism or an English degree, but those whose academic concentrations were in philosophy, history or other majors in the liberal arts or the social sciences. They preferred writers with a wider view and deeper insights.

Not many years after that declaration, his paper and others like it were taken over and then sold by new owners for whom profit was the primary motive, piling the newspaper company with debt and extracting what was valuable. In the long, unfortunate, painful struggle for its viability and identity, the golden era of the Philadelphia Inquirer, which won at least one Pulitzer Prize every year between 1975 and 1990, ended ignominiously. Oh, the irony of it all.

Wolfgang Mewes bemoaned “the ‘academization’ of education and society.” This causes “people [to] consider and deal with individual goals and developments independently of one another.”[3] In other words, the normalizing of societal atomization that can result in societal breakdown.

Norman Wirzba complained about “credentialing,” that it “has taken priority over education.” Instead of an education that redounds to the common good, “what we crave is the degree and the well-padded resume, because we view it as a ticket to a job interview.” It results in:

the equating of personal freedom with purchasing power, the profitability of enterprises that degrade workers and natural environments alike, the erosion of family and communal life for the purposes of shareholder interests, the entrenchment of social stratification and division along educational lives, and the distortion of desire itself as people are reduced to buying machines more and more under the control of media and marketing moguls.[4]

Skills-based education and training are not to be discounted. But the dominance of the banking, academization and credentialing approaches to education and learning have pauperized the mind, perhaps even the soul. We yearn for a system that allows the mind to wander, to divert and create; that brings groups, communities and even a nation together in all its glorious and majestic diversity.

[1] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Bloomsbury Academic; 30th Anniversary edition, September 1, 2000

[2] Bob Marley, Could you be Loved? Produced by Bob Marley & the Wailers & Chris Blackwell, Uprising album, June 10, 1980

[3] https://gevert.com/sanacion-una-alternativa-poco-conocida/

[4] Norman Wirzba, Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight, Brazos Press, 2006

4 comments on “Broadening the mind, freeing the spirit

  1. Devon Nunes on

    Great article. Well done Eron. “Education is not the preparation for life, education is life itself” this quote from the philosopher John Dewey captivate the true essence of this article and what education is and should be truly about. Great job my friend wish you all the best.

    Reply
  2. Katherine Traynham on

    Excellent and thoughtful piece, Eron. We have indeed lost the purpose of education. If we ever return to the honorable goal of producing good citizens, we will do better.

    Reply

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