Thoughts About a Balanced Education
(Excerpts from the Discovering the Real Me Teacher's Manual)
A museum exhibit in London displays piles of salt, potassium, carbon, etc., alongside a container of water. Underneath, there is a caption that reads, “THIS IS A HUMAN BEING.” Yes, materially speaking, these are the components of a human being. Yet most people would argue that there is something more to being human.
What is a Human Being?
The human mind aspires to truth, beauty, goodness, virtue, and love. Finding or realizing these things gives us a deep sense of fulfillment as well as happiness and joy. Without these things, life is ashen indeed.
At the same time, we have material desires and needs coming from our physical selves—the part of us that is indeed salt, potassium, carbon, water, etcetera. We like to eat tasty food. We want to be physically healthy. We seek shelter to protect us from the elements and provide us with a comfortable place to live. We value money and the things that it can buy. We seek a mate. Fulfilling these physically based desires brings us physical happiness.
The Pursuit of Understanding
Throughout human history, people have pursued both the physical and spiritual aspects of understanding. Through science, we have come to understand the nature of our physical universe more and more, leading to technological advances that have enhanced the quality of our material life. Religion and philosophy have given us a deeper understanding of the internal or spiritual aspect of life, addressing fundamental questions such as the meaning of life, the way of goodness, the existence, and nature of God, human relationships, and so on. Science on the one hand, and religion and philosophy on the other, have both been involved in the pursuit of human understanding.
In the 20th century, education throughout the world came to take on more of a scientific and technical character. In the process, the more traditional concept of education, which stressed the development of a person’s character in preparation for life, became more and more marginalized.
Daniel Goleman, researcher and author of the groundbreaking book, Emotional Intelligence, wrote,
Our schools and our culture fixate on academic abilities, ignoring emotional intelligence, a set of traits—some might call it character—that also matters immensely for our personal destiny.
The Need for Balanced Education
Our tendency has been to focus on developing knowledge, skills, and creative talents while neglecting the more fundamental dimensions of educating people to become good. The result of this overemphasis has been the education of people with high levels of professional abilities that do not possess moral standards commensurate with their influence and responsibility. Thus, we have computer specialists using their knowledge to create viruses whose sole purpose is to destroy the workings of thousands of computers, or creative artists who use their talents to propagate sexual exploitation and violence.
The challenge for education in the 21st century is to correct the current imbalance. To neglect doing so is actually dangerous. As our power to control and manipulate our physical universe grows, the need to channel that power through morality grows too.
Historian Arnold Toynbee put it like this:
The greater our material power, the greater our need for spiritual insight and virtue to use our power for good and not for evil…We have never been adequate spiritually for handling our material power; and today the morality gap is…greater than it has ever been in any previous age.
It is not a far stretch to realize that technical knowledge without the guidance of morality is dangerous. Knowledge of how to make nuclear weapons in the hands of immoral killers would be a disaster for humanity. Medical expertise in the hands of torturers refines their methods to a horrific degree.