What is important in life and in education?

There are times in our lives when we inevitably question what is truly important. As educators, we must pay attention to those times and take an additional moment to reflect upon whether those things are considered important in the world of education.

I am going though one of those times, and am motivated to write about it.

The importance of family

As the family unit continues to break down, moving away from our families becomes a normal thing to do. For all their flaws, our families are one of our greatest sources of support, our only source of the details and stories of our own history and ancestry and perhaps the only true definition of who we actually are. The way we treat our families could, perhaps, be the most true measure of us as human beings. The way we treat our parents as they grow old – in many cases – is a sad indictment of a rather twisted view of human rights that has evolved as work, money and the avoidance of the inconvenient have come to power. Is family on the educational agenda?

The importance of well-being

Happiness and health are extremely complex and, when everything else is stripped away – what else is there? As Sir Ken Robinson continues to remind us – the notion that happiness comes from good work and that good work comes from a good education and that a good education looks exactly the same in every context and can remain in the same mould over a period of a hundred years – is fundamentally flawed. As Alan Watts poetically tells us, this linear pursuit of happiness lends itself to a life spent endlessly seeking something that does not materialise – it is “all wretch and no vomit”. Schools that are strong in their determination to allow time and space for students to explore their own happiness and consider, from an early age, the factors of happiness and suffering are paving a way forward that can only serve to enrich and empower them to make very positive contributions to the world around them.

The importance of ecological intelligence

Whether we are believers in any of the hype about global warming existing or not existing, ozone layers and other buzz words that serve only to polarize us and make us feel rather useless, there can be no denying that people on this planet live either with ecological intelligence or ecological ignorance. I live in Asia, where the latter is absolutely and catastrophically the case. Of course, Asia is not unique – just turn on the TV.

Like many of our real global issues, they are delivered to our students in ways that place massive pressure on them to undo everything the last two generations have done. They are presented with massive issues and, increasingly, the disagreement of “experts” about these issues that serve only to confuse our students even more. As these issues become larger, more distant and more complex, the individual develops an increasing sense of uselessness. According to David Hicks, this is perpetuated in almost every school curriculum.

Students need to learn how to live with ecological intelligence but, of course, they also need to be surrounded by people, communities and entire societies living with ecological intelligence. Learning about something and then stepping out into the living example of the opposite will naturally cancel out what you learn!

The importance of cynicism, instinct and wisdom

The art of believing, disbelieving and not being sure what to believe or disbelieve is a fundamental survival skill. It calls upon our animal instincts and our ability to develop the wisdom that forges a moral code of our own creation. Blind belief and disbelief are at the root of many of the contemporary destructive tendencies that undermine our status as the most intelligent lifeform on Earth. Indeed, Osho states that stupidity is present nowhere other than in human beings. Have you ever, one of their books asks, seen a stupid bird or a stupid plant?

The ability to think quickly, follow gut instincts and act with wisdom are things we are born with and are then educated out of. Everyone I know has a tale of suffering in which gut instincts were overruled by common sense. I know of no school in which students are encouraged to be cynical, to consider and act upon instinct and to develop genuine wisdom of their own. No doubt doing so would be very hard, but perhaps worth a try.

The importance of the real

I like technology, I am using it now. But I also see grave danger ahead, a disconnect with the real, scary shifts in the way we interact or – increasingly – don’t interact. Touching a plant will always be more powerful than fingering the screen of an iPad. Experiencing the world in person should never be replaced by the emptiness of virtual reality. Flirting with someone across the train carriage is far more soulful than using some free app to find people in your vicinity to date. The serendipity of stumbling across a bar or restaurant for the first time is much more satisfying than being told to go there by a device.

We must become skilful and wise users of technological tools, and that is it. Use it, put it down and get on with a life that is rich, real, risky and rewarding.

The importance of food

Every day, at least three times a day, the lucky among us put food into our bodies. Many of us, however, do so without thought and without knowledge of what it is we are eating. People like Jamie Oliver have started to reverse this trend and have called upon us all to develop the intelligence to realise that many food “products” are, in fact, poison. The data, though uncomfortable, shows us that a lot of the food that is being pushed into the mouths of kids in homes and in schools is actually killing them. The fact that this is a slow death makes it easier to ignore. The fact that the alternatives are both inconvenient and expensive give undue power to the packaged and processed poison that is consumed each day.

Some schools have listened and I urge all of us to either force our own school to listen or to seek out a school that is already in the habit of listening and work there instead.

The importance of time

Time. The only constant in our lives is that time keeps ticking. How we use our time and how we appreciate our time are clear indicators of the way we live our lives. Many of us wish our lives away waiting for weekends and holidays. The belief that all will come good in the end shifts our focus to what is coming next, the future, and removes our capacity to enjoy and appreciate what we have and what do now. Time inevitably speeds up and, rather foolishly, we ask where it went.

When schools begin to use time constructively rather than to treat it is a series of little sections that must be filled and accounted for, we may come close to seeing generations of people who are able to take responsibility for their own constructive and creative use of time. In education, time management means doing everything we ask you to do in the time we give you to do it. Perhaps, it could mean doing everything in your potential in the time you choose to allocate to it.

There are more things to say, but the time has come to put this laptop away and go and see if that thunder outside will turn into rain.



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