The Chicken or The Egg

By Ella Crabtree. Ella is a student from Birmingham England. Please read her article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

It is often said that exams test your ability to remember rather than your intelligence. They rigorously check whether we recall the correct formula or the exact structure of words that will get us one more mark and let us pass. For a school, or any institute of learning, that is judged on the results it can produce from its students at the end of the year this seems like an unfair task. How do you make a student want to remember something? You make them love it. How do you get good results? You educate their hearts, not just their heads, as Aristotle once said; “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” In this essay I will discuss whether this quote is really an accurate idea and whether many people’s successes in education can be generalised to this quote.

On one hand I wonder; is there any room left to love maths when someone is constantly drilled on algebraic equations or perhaps it is hard to enjoy art when all you are told is that you haven’t got the lighting right, making the whole image two dimensional. I do see many people around me however rise to the challenge and find a passion for acrylics or even Pi despite challenges and criticism. I think this is in part down to the fact that they have met people- their teachers, family members, friends- so passionate about what they love that it is infectious. For me my passion is in genetics, the organ systems and how proteins folds, to anyone else this could be the most boring thing on earth but because I have listened to people with heads stuffed full of knowledge and hearts full of enthusiasm for what they are talking about I have been infected with it.

On the other hand another part of passion I feel must stem from learning these things, of how to do something like balance a chemical equation or write in perfect iambic pentameter something boringly simple and perfect or hard to grasp and complex- to know something so thoroughly can cause a love for it.

Too often people simply expect the second way to work, to hand out sheets, have a child colour code them and then for them to pass the tests and enjoy the subject. I watch many of my friends excel at their chosen subjects but only because their teachers make time and put in effort to help them understand something, they share with them their knowledge and it helps them to succeed. That extra time and effort helps them to grasp things but it might not always make them love it; many other people simply remember information told to them but feel nothing towards it.

Perhaps then we should look more closely at what Aristotle means when he says this quote. Is he simply talking about life in general, for your head to be educated in science and language and for your heart to be educated in love and life? Or maybe he means that no passion for a subject means no understanding of it? I have met people of both types, people knowledgeable about many things whose passions lie elsewhere in sport or books, and people who have built their whole lives around their passions. Many will tell you that you cannot be happy unless you follow the second way of life. But surely I do not have to let my head and heart be in unison constantly, for there will always be moments when logic will tell me to do one thing and instinct the other.

Albert Einstein once said, ‘Any fool can know. The point is to understand.’ Maybe this is more what Aristotle meant, that you can know anything but without your heart in it you won’t understand it. Most know Einstein’s famous equation E=mc^2, for example, but how many can truly tell you what it means? Most physicists most likely can because they had the passion to study the subject and understand it. And again looking at Physics, a subject previously seen as hard and ‘out of reach’ for many, has seen an increase of applicants to study it; this has been partly attributed to the TV show The Big Bang Theory as it has made the subject seem more accessible and fun. This seems the perfect example of Aristotle’s theory of education; because people have seen it can be enjoyable and interesting then they’re more willing to learn it and stick with it than they might have been before when all they saw was large textbooks and long lessons which, in my opinion, shows that educating their hearts by making them laugh and enjoy it makes them want to learn and educate their minds. Of course, you also have to consider the fact that you can watch the show, enjoy a laugh and still have no idea what, for example, the Doppler Effect is and no drive to find out. Without my previous knowledge of physics- and the other sciences- I do not think the show would have been as interesting. Maybe it is my underlying knowledge of the subject that allows me to see it as the perfect example of this idea then, in which case I am wrong.

In conclusion it seems less of an argument on whether Aristotle’s idea is correct- for I believe it is- and more on which comes first, education of the mind or the heart? It feels very like the chicken or the egg puzzle. Because I do not think you can force anyone to love something it becomes more a question of does knowing something breed a passion for it or does having a passion for something make you want to learn more on it?

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