All the world may be a stage, but we are not just merely players

By Vicky Bryan. Vicky is a 44 year old English teacher at Mougins School. She lives in Fayence, France

William Shakespeare knew that ‘one man in his time plays many parts’ and Nelson Mandela’s life certainly attested to that, although he is mostly remembered for the wonderful influence he had on our world. One of Mandela’s most influential effects he had on the world’s population was his ability to motivate and inspire others. Mandela’s imparting wisdom to all of us was that life was about courage. He profoundly stated, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” As a man, who suffered in many ways for his causes, who ultimately rose to become the president of his country and a leading figure in the world, he is to be admired for his ability to survive all the challenges of life and for the care that he showed towards others. Most importantly, he demonstrated that his formidable courage emanated from none other than education, itself, and that education was the foundation for a better society – one that we must all strive to achieve, because that is how our world will survive. We must be able to name our fear, to describe it, to analyse it, in order to know how best to deal with it and fear is everywhere in the world, so education was his answer.

Education is a fearful experience; at some point in everyone’s education, everyone has experienced the fear of not being good enough, of not knowing enough, of not remembering enough, of being made fun of and of not being able to perform well enough on tests. To combat this fear of education is to develop the world to its potential and beyond. Mandela stated that, “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.” In this context, the separation he was referring to was the separation of each individual recognising his/her educational potential, not the separation of people in a worldwide community. Ironically and paradoxically, Mandela also claimed that, “By ancestry, I was born to rule.” These days, I think that Mandela would have agreed that education should not be about inherent rights to higher forms of education, but rather, in everybody overcoming the fear of education, so that ‘the daughter of a peasant’, ‘the son of a mineworker’ and ‘a child of farm workers’ are encouraged to take part in education and that is as available to each of them as it is to any child with ancestral claims to leadership and education. Fear must be overcome from all perspectives: the ‘peasant’, ‘mineworker’ and ‘farmworker’ must be able to see the value in education and not be afraid for his/ her child/ children to engage in the process. Likewise, those with ancestral claims or wealthy advantages must not segregate the education of their children from others, fearful that a child without those privileges could overtake theirs, educationally. The key to this equality in education is having good schools for everyone, with good teachers for everyone and ensuring that, like Mandela’s achievements in fighting against apartheid, education must also not be segregated, elitist and must be equal for all.

Furthermore, courage is not just something that we need as we are growing up in our formative years, but rather something that we need throughout our entire lives. As we need education to be courageous, it follows that we also need education for our whole lives, since the presence of fear is not only there during our developmental years. At different stages of our lives, we need to know about different concepts and about different information. Our universities and colleges develop and deliver programmes aimed at the student demographics of typical 18-24 year olds, studying full-time, whilst the actual student demographics reflect that there are actually a number of students that age, who are working part-time to support their education and who are therefore, studying part-time. There are also a number of older students, who have returned to education for various reasons. The programmes, therefore, need to match the students’ needs more accurately. Not only do we need education for our lives, but we also need exercise in order to continue learning, to continue being courageous and to continue developing our society to the best that it can be. Mandela said that he, “always believed exercise is a key, not only to physical health, but to peace of mind.” His holistic approach to life, showed us how everything in our lives is connected: exercising, relationships, education and courage. He almost indicates that certain tests at certain stages of our lives are unnecessary, since education is a life-long process and “peace of mind” is important. Are high stakes tests, such as A-levels and GCSEs and SATS and other similarly, corresponding tests, valid to our development of courage and of knowledge and at what costs? Could there be other methods of educational development that do not devastate such a large number of students at such young ages of their lives? At the moment, our somewhat defeatist, education system is not matching its demographics accordingly, nor is it developing courage in all of its participants.

Moreover, Mandela was a true educator, showing us the power of words. Ideals can be reached when people have heard or read about an ideal that was imagined and communicated. He knew the importance of reading and of keeping up with the ideas being communicated, once saying that, “Not a day goes by when I don’t read every newspaper I can lay my hands on, wherever I am.” Technology is key to development in our educational institutions, for it is through technology that we can communicate with one another better and faster than ever. Social media is to be embraced and welcomed, for it is a tool that opens up our communication potential. We can learn to manage it, rather than be afraid of it. Rather than isolating himself or being embittered about the difficult experiences he had in his lifetime, Mandela remained open to the world and educated himself about what was happening in the world, everywhere. He said he was, “influenced in [his] thinking by both west and east.” This wealth of knowledge helped him become a great leader, to realise that true leaders, ‘lead from behind and put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur.’ This is exactly what our educators, education secretaries and political leaders should be doing: putting people, students and children first and developing their courage and positive self-esteem and engaging them all in rewarding educational experiences. Mandela also saw that good leaders ‘take the front line when there is danger.’ Our teachers should have the power to develop educational experiences; our educational leaders should engage with them often to discuss the challenges presented to them, in this ever-changing world. By seeing these everyday role models in their schools, we will also be teaching our children to be good leaders. Our schools must be like our societies. Mandela said that he, “cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.” His dreams for, ‘the realization of the unity of Africa, whereby its leaders combine in their efforts to solve the problems of this continent” can be extended easily to be dreams for our schools and for our world. In the same way that he dreamt of Africa’s “vast deserts, of our forests, of all our great wildernesses”, so we can dream of the realisation of our wonderful countries, when our educational systems work effectively and imbibe all of us with courage to deal with the problems in our world, thereby eliminating the problems or at least, minimising them for our future generations.

Most memorably, Mandela taught us what it was to be human, to be more than, as Shakespeare would say, ‘merely players’, to need that education to conquer fear. He said he couldn’t, “pretend that [he was] brave and that [he] could beat the whole world”, but he did more than that. He showed us how to be courageous and the important role that education plays in developing that courageousness. For that, I thank him most whole-heartedly, as I work towards doing what I can in the education system to make this world a better place for everyone.

6 comments on “All the world may be a stage, but we are not just merely players

  1. Robert cooke on

    An amazing tour de force of Nelson Mandela’s ideas on human progress and education. Well done Vicky, very enjoyable to read.

  2. Lindsay Ellis on

    Your acknowledgement that fear, courage and education are on going processes throughout life is written in the true spirit of Nelson Mandela

  3. Fiona Troughton on

    Very interesting and thoughtful. I loved your ideas/discussion of equality and courage and appreciated your emphasis that this is a lifelong proce


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