In my defense, two things hit me square between the eyes this week. First, students are dropping like flies because of the raging epidemic of “spring break fever” that is racing through and ravaging my campus. And, then, there’s an editorial by David Brooks that appears in this morning’s New York Times. Together they got me asking once again just what is at the core of education. Is it technology? No! Is it pedagogy? No! Is it cold, distant, clinical objectivity? God, no!! Is it accountability? Sorta. I say “sorta” because we are, more often than not, accountable for and to the wrong things. For when all is said and done, when all is peeled away, all you have left is people: humanity, the foundation of which are very human emotional and social relationships.
And, most of us just don’t get it or don’t want to get it or are afraid to get it because we have such a superficial and shallow view of the people in the classroom. So, we so distort our perceptions. The classroom is flat! We are flat! They are flat! Education is flat! We have become monotheists. We grovel before, submit to, and worship at the foot of the one god of reason. We heed its high priests’ commandments, ”Thou shalt be objective!” ”Thou shalt count!” “Thou shalt measure!” ”Thou shalt honor thy reason!” ”Thou shalt honor IQ!” ”Thou shalt not be emotional!” Obeying these divine ordinances, we engage in rituals that strip the vibrant flesh from our and their bones. We hold ceremonies that drain us and them of life-giving blood. We pronounce ourselves and all we do to be emotion-suppressing, cold, clinical, calculating, distant, and disengaged. We amputate ourselves and them of emotion and social relationships. All that remains is a one-dimensional, dehumanized, lifeless, cardboard image as if everyone was flattened by a steamroller in a cartoon. We believe intellect wins over all. We believe reason controls all. We believe all can be calculated, measured, quantified. After all, we are homo sapien, aren’t’ we? We have risen above wild beastly emotions, haven’t we? We are civilized, aren’t we? We are no long barbarians, aren’t we? So, we look for and value–and defend–only that which we can measure; we focus only on what we can quantify. We paint our lives, their lives, only by numbers. We spotlight numerical grades, IQs, SATs, GPAs, LSATs, GMATS, and a host of professional board tests. We recognize and award and honor only on the basis of that we can calculate. We only use measurements to assess, to make accountable, to make answerable.
But, when it comes to the most important things like how to use and for what purpose to use our information and skills, to how to develop morals and ethics, how to hone personal character, how to build social relationships, how to educate emotions, we fall from grace. We get so emotional! We get so subjective! We get so agitated! We become so unreasonable! We become so human! Imagine that!! Most of us become hot-under-the-collar, aggressive, sweep-of-the-hands rejectionists. We bluster excitedly from the rooftops, “That’s not my job.” Yet, we blind, deafen, and dumb ourselves with our own emotional. We demand the facts. We want to see the studies. Then, we they are pushed under our noses and placed in front of our eyes, we smirk and ignore the latest findings of neuroscience, psychology, and all the behavioral sciences with dismissing, self-serving, defensive “In my humble opinion,” or “I believe,” or “I don’t believe.” We throw tomatoes, shrieking, “Trouble maker!” Worse, we point blaming fingers, screaming in high-pitched voices, “Iconoclast,” “Non-conformist,” “Dissenter,” “Unbeliever,” “Apostate,” “Defiler,” “Heathen,” “Heretic!” Worst of all, we level inquisition-like charges of “nonsensical,” “irrational,” “touchy feely,” “fuzzy,” “new age,” and “sappy.”
But, I tell you, from decades of both personal and professional experience and study and reflection, we thrive, students thrive, only when we realize we are “feeling ‘man,’” “social ‘man,’” as well as “thinking ‘man,’” only when we edify both our and students’ emotions, only when we hone human relationships, when we stop Jim Crowing emotion and socialization from reason, only when we understand that all three are joined at the hip, only when we develop intellectual skills in conjunction with social skills and emotional skills, only when we mined for and smelt and use attunement, awareness, otherness, attentiveness, empathy, kindness, courage, trust, respect, and service.
No, it’s not the god of reason to whom we should be paying sole homage. But, if you want to remain monotheists, become acolytes of the god of love. For, as Lao Tzu and a host of others have said over the ages, love is what commands all, powers all, guides all, and binds us all: how we think, how we feel, how we relate, in whom we have faith, for whom we have hope, in whom we believe. The day we start doing that will be the day we start looking at education differently, at students differently, and at ourselves differently. And, that day will be the day we start transforming from doing important things to becoming significant persons.