Education, versus academic schooling, Théun addressing the South African Department of Education on (1992) from Warriors' Journeys


  • Education, versus academic schooling, Théun addressing the South African Department of Education on (1992)
  • Théun Mares, addressing the South African Department of Education (1992)

Théun Addressing The South African Department of Education (1992)

Education versus Academic Schooling 1992

We in South Africa are today standing at the proverbial crossroad. There is little doubt that we are in the process of making history, taking a huge leap forward in social sciences, politics and economics - a leap that will have a decided effect upon the world as a whole. There is also little doubt that whichever way we go, we are, in one way or another, setting an example for the rest of the world. However, it is naive to believe that the many great changes in our country are being brought about simply by political machination. If one looks beyond the face value, it becomes clear that the real motivating force in South Africa is man's inherent, albeit mostly unconscious drive towards seeking harmony through conflict. Deep inside each and every one of us is the instinct for survival, and therefore also the intuitive recognition of the need to fight for that survival; irrespective of whether this is physical survival, economic survival, emotional survival, survival of one's culture, religion, language, or quite simply survival of the self in the broadest possible meaning of the term "self".

But in a world that has become riddled with crime and violence, injustice and anarchy, the word "fight" has become a dirty word. Consequently we frown heavily upon those who express the desire to fight, we protest loudly when any person steps out of line relative to what is the accepted norm, we condition each other in the so-called civilised ways of democracy and worse still, we condition our children into becoming meek and mild, unable and indeed, unwilling to fight. Then we wonder why our children cannot fight peer pressure when it comes to alcohol and drugs, and we wonder why, once they have become adults, they turn out to be so weak in fighting for their rights. Therefore the question facing all of us, including educationalists of every description, is not whether or not it is good to fight, but rather that if we do have to fight, how best can we fight to our advantage so that the positive emerges, rather than chaos, anarchy, rebellion and ultimately also destruction?

We cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand like so many ostriches. If we are going to achieve peace in our country, rid society of crime, build a stable economy and carve out a type of future which all of us can look forward to and be proud of, then we need to acknowledge that the only way in which we can achieve our goals is for individuals like you and me to stand together, not only to take joint responsibility for our circumstances, our challenges, and our lives, but also to fight for all that we believe in. No one can fight for us, because no one can live our lives for us. Not the police. Not the government. Not the church. Not the schools. Not our neighbourhood watch or the security companies. We all have our own lives to live, our own challenges to face, and our own responsibility in fighting to create the type of world and society in which we would like to live. And most important of all, each and every one of us has our own individual responsibility to give our children the correct guidance to help us build the country and the future of our dreams. Why? Because our children are the future, and therefore they too need to learn to fight - to fight against peer pressure, to fight against the debilitating restraints of social conditioning, and above all, to fight for self-respect in learning how to think for themselves, rather than just becoming the victims of circumstance and society.

Up until now the needs of children everywhere have been determined largely by the demands made upon them by adult society. In this respect it has for a long time been assumed that the needs of children are the same as those of their parents and teachers. Although people, generally speaking, can sense that children must, by the force of evolution, develop needs different from those of their parents, in practice very little has been done to guide children towards discovering for themselves what are their own particular needs within an evolving world. Here we are sadly reminded of the prophetic words of John Dryden:

"By education most have been misled;
So they believe, because they so were bred.
The priest continues what the nurse began,
And thus the child imposes on the man."

Already as far back as 1953, the Centre for the Study of Liberal Education, a subdivision of the Ford Foundation, made the following statement: "Education must meet the needs of the human spirit. It must assist persons to develop a satisfactory personal philosophy and sense of values; to grow in the ability to analyze problems and arrive at thoughtful conclusions."

Oliver L. Reiser, lecturer at the University of Pittsburgh, commented on this statement as follows: "In such a philosophy three fundamental needs must be met: (1) a psychological theory of the human person to be educated; (2) a social theory of the kind of society one is trying to create or preserve as a suitable home for the cultural ideals promulgated; and (3) a world view or cosmology, a theory of man's place in the universe in which man is spectator and actor."

Elsewhere Reiser also points out that: "Our problem is to attain the kind of overall synthesis that Marxism and neo-Scholasticism provide for their followers, but to get this by the freely-chosen co-operative methods that Dewey advocated. In the broadest terms such a world-view will make possible a planetary civilisation by integrating whatever trans-temporal and trans-spacial truths about man and the universe we can extract from all regional cultures in their local times and places. These universal principles will then provide the norms for education in the New Age.

"The world today suffers from a cultural provincialism based on the dualism of an outward-looking, objective attitude of the Western world, and an inwardness or subjectivity of Oriental societies. For the future, the remedy for the social schisms and psychological fissions that have handicapped and obstructed modern efforts to overcome the divisions of humanity, lies in a restoration of unity of principles upon which an integration of human values and achievements can be attempted. The educational implications of this development are clear. The time to re-synthesize the objective and subjective, the extrovert and introvert, and to achieve a great orchestration of culture is now."

These words were true then, and how very true they are for us today. If we are to achieve our objectives for a better future, then we must turn our attention to education, for it is not only ourselves we must educate, but also our children. In this respect our greatest challenge is how best to re-synthesize the objective and the subjective, the Western and the Eastern, conflict and harmony and ultimately, male and female. In other words, the old outdated practices of suppressing that which is deemed undesirable or in some odd way inferior, must give way to new ways in which we can harmonise differences in opinion, religion, and moral standards, harmonise differences in sex, race, creed and culture, without trying to elevate one above the other. Just because some people are Christian and others are Buddhist, does not mean that one lot are the chosen few and the other lot are eternally damned. Just because one child tends more towards left-brain activity, while another tends more towards right-brain activity, does not mean that one is inferior to the other. Such forms of prejudice based upon separative thinking have no value in the future of our country, and it is herein that education can and must play a vital role.

But it is important to realise that it is not only teachers who are responsible for education. All of us must take joint responsibility for the education of both ourselves and our children. Therefore if we are to evolve an educational system which is to be of benefit to all people, and if we are to develop a system which will equip our young people with the academic as well as the social and psychological tools they will need, then we will have to look to the very roots of education, and these it will be found lie within culture, expressed not only through the arts, but also through the sciences. Once again we see the need for synthesis, rather than separativeness.

Art and science, culture and education: these can no longer stand apart, each trying desperately to outdo the other. The essential dualities must be synthesised, and in this respect, culture, in its broadest possible implications, must be restored to its rightful place within education. Culture is not the product of education; instead the evolution of culture leads man into new avenues of thought, and hence of education.

If we are to achieve a new civilisation free from crime, violence, poverty and fear, then such a civilisation will have to be based upon a unity of all people and, as Reiser points out, this unity must be grounded in the integration of whatever trans-temporal and trans-spatial truths about man and the universe we can extract from all the regional cultures in their local times and places. If we are ever to overcome the cultural provincialism, the social schisms and the psychological fissions which keep the peoples of South Africa within a state of apartheid, which keep people locked within the debilitating confines of sexual inequality, and which keep people hooked to the idea that science is better than art, that academic schooling is better than cultural education, we will have to restore a unity of principles upon which an integration of human values and achievements can be attempted. There is simply no other way.

When we speak about culture we should bear in mind that man is essentially a religious creature, and that at the base of all culture lie man's deepest questions about life. Who are we? Why are we here? What is the purpose of our lives and our deaths? How should we understand our place in the world, in time, in space? And what, indeed, is the purpose of education, of going to school, of learning? Richard Carlyon states that "there has never been a culture that did not express an awareness of the divine, and these expressions have been as colourful as the cultures themselves. Gods and goddesses have appeared in every conceivable guise, possessing every possible character, mirroring every human attitude, opinion, virtue and vice. Their stories are a history of the human psyche and are the common heritage of us all."

Yet, sadly, how many of us are knowledgeable about even our own culture, let alone that of another? How many of us can even accurately define the meaning of the word "culture"? We may look upon our modern society as being highly civilised, but ironically, it is also very uncultured. To lack knowledge of the meaning and purpose of culture is to be uneducated, even though we may be highly schooled in several academic disciplines. To be schooled, but not educated, is to be a fragmented human being. Culture addresses the questions pertaining to life. Schooling in those questions enables us to live life. But to be schooled only in academic pursuits that are not seen within the context of life as a whole, is to be uneducated in the true sense of the word. Uneducated people cannot live life. Uneducated people can at best exist within the confines of their academic abilities and achievements.

Culture has arisen out of man's instinctual need to address abstract questions which are fundamentally religious in character. Therefore, if we are to attempt a synthesis in culture, of human thought and human values, then we shall have to address ourselves to the deepest layers of the human psyche, those layers at which separation is an impossibility, since at these deep levels fragmentation does not exist. As Carl Jung pointed out: "the deeper layers of the psyche lose their individual uniqueness as they retreat further and further into darkness. Lower down, that is to say, as they approach the autonomous functional systems, they become increasingly collective until they are universalised and extinguished in the body's materiality, that is, the chemical bodies. The body's carbon is simply carbon. Hence at bottom the psyche is simply world."

What Jung is pointing out in this statement is that in the final analysis divinity is simply divinity, and the different ways in which people express the Supreme First Cause make up what we term culture.

Our problem today is indeed a world problem, but nowhere else in the world has any one country been blessed with such an abundance of potential as has South Africa. We in South Africa have all the ingredients necessary with which to build and establish a new world order. Not only does the South African population represent a most marvelous mixture of different peoples, different races, languages, skills and culture, but also the fundamental polarity of East and West. Here in this young, inexperienced country of ours lies a potential of which the rest of the world is slowly becoming aware. We too should be fully aware of our potential, our opportunity and our challenge. South Africa is one of the youngest countries in the world, and it has in the immediate past often been accused of attempted trickery, and quite rightly so. Like all young people, South Africa is badly in need of education, something which cannot be accomplished by concentrating only upon academic schooling. Why? Simply because, as Joseph Henderson observes, "the trickster is thoroughly amoral. He submits to no discipline and is guided wholly by his experiential attitude towards life. Yet it is out of this trickster figure that the Hero-Saviour ultimately evolves. The trickster impulse provides the strongest resistance towards initiation, and is one of the hardest problems education has to solve, because it seems a kind of divinely-sanctioned lawlessness that promises to become heroic."

"A kind of divinely-sanctioned lawlessness that promises to become heroic". Does that sound familiar? If it doesn't, then it should. This one phrase sums up so very accurately where our children are at today, where society is at today, where we in South Africa are at today. This impulse towards lawlessness is something we can try to suppress, or try to eradicate altogether. But if we do so, we will be killing off something in us that is vitally important to our future and our well-being: we will be killing off our potential to develop Hero-Saviours. Alternatively, we can educate ourselves in what it means to be human beings, and thereby come into contact with both the meaning and the purpose of the Hero-Saviour, so that we may claim this deep inner drive towards fighting off inertia and that the evolution of awareness may proceed unencumbered. It is not rebellion that is bad. What is bad is that we have never taught either our children or ourselves to rebel with discrimination. It is not fighting that is bad. What is bad is that neither we, nor our children know what it is we should be fighting for. As a result, rebellion turns into anarchy, fighting becomes destructive, and the Hero-Saviour, instead of being a hero and a saviour, becomes instead a manic dictator who suppresses man's instinctual urge towards creativity and innovation. Instead of the Hero-Saviour in us guiding us towards harmony through conflict, we debilitate ourselves into achieving only chaos and destruction through an ignorance that breeds only crime and violence.

Suppress, eradicate and destroy, or educate, guide and uplift - those are the two options open to us as parents and citizens. Do we wish to have children that are the victims of society, or do we wish them to become Hero-Saviours?

If we wish to uplift ourselves and our children to the status of the Hero-Saviour, then we must come to the acknowledgement that academic schooling without a proper education is not even nearly enough. In this respect the major disadvantages of mere academic schooling lie in the fact that, firstly, the teaching of social interaction is neglected almost entirely, with the result that the child is seldom, if ever, taught and evaluated as an entire person. Consequently, even though he or she may excel in academic work, the fact remains that the child is not equipped to handle life, to handle the many pressures of society. Why should this be so? Because the physical and emotional training of the child have been omitted, or at best given very little attention, while the only mental training received is centred almost exclusively around academic achievement. Other areas of the mind, such as creative imagination and thought, and learning to translate feeling into conscious thought, are relegated to the back row, if not frowned upon. Yet, it is only through this type of training that the child develops the ability to formulate purposeful questions and thereby acquires the necessary ability to evaluate self, and to assess the personal.

Yet, in all of this, we must always remember that it is not the responsibility of only the schools to educate our children. All of us, but all of us, are jointly responsible by virtue of the fact that we all participate in the one life, we all participate in the one society, and therefore we all interact with each other to create those emotional responses and mental impulses we should be educated in handling constructively. In this respect we all have a duty to learn and in learning, to support each other in learning even more. Therefore, it is not a question of "I send my child to school to be educated," but rather that true learning, true education, takes place all the time, everywhere. Life doesn't happen only at school. Life happens all the time. We need academic schooling in order to establish a career, but life is infinitely more than merely holding down a job.

Therefore the real challenge facing all of us is quite simply the question of education versus academic schooling. Our country will not survive on academic ability alone. Our society cannot withstand crime and violence with academic ability only. Our children cannot survive the pressures of society with academic schooling alone. Academic schooling is concerned with training only a small part of the mind, and is therefore no longer enough. If we are to survive we must turn our attention to educating the whole person.