What is True Education?
The true original meaning of the word education was to draw out from within us, our best self. The word education comes from Latin, from ē- (“from, out of”) and dūcō (“I lead, I conduct”).
The original aim of education was to emancipate, those that desired it, to create in them the character of a citizen who would be fit to take part in the governing of a democracy.
Today ‘education’ mostly means only learning and training. It is the product of those in previous centuries who dreamt of universal literacy and universal schooling. Today, the next step for our civilisation is universal true education.
True education aims to help us know the quiet place within us, from where originates all the exceptional things that it is possible for us to do. True education aims to help us know, cultivate and nurture that part of us, to enable us to live life more courageously, liberating us from the fears that can debilitate us. True education, by drawing out our best selves, makes us better able to learn and to achieve higher standards in training, but the principal aim is to help us live better, happier lives.
What does it mean to ‘know yourself’?
We often learn by experience that when we get upset, we rarely think straight, and only after getting over our upset can we can think straight again. We can also learn that when we get inspired, we can see more potential in the world, we can see that we can do more and that we can improve our lives. When we know yourselves, we are no longer dominated by what life throws at us because we have learnt how to interact with our inner worlds, so we are playing a bigger part in shaping the story of our lives than the events that happen to us. In classical times, those who learnt how to ‘know themselves’ were considered free, whilst those who didn’t were considered not to have yet attained their freedom.
We need to ‘know ourselves’ because, as human beings, we see the world partly the way we are and partly the way the world is. Knowing ourselves means we can engage more effectively with the world. Without knowing ourselves, we will unnecessarily struggle in life. We need to know ourselves to govern and manage ourselves, so we are not limited to being managed or governed by others.
Knowing yourself aims to empower us to excel in the role we play in life. It helps us to create businesses, to contribute to our society and to become leaders.
“Educating the head without educating the heart is no education at all.”Aristotle
Our capacity for freedom rests in our hearts, not in our heads. The focus of true education is on our hearts. Our hearts are that quiet place within us from where originates all the great things we do, and all the great things we have the potential to do.
We mostly live in a brain-centered culture. The heart is often just considered a pump. But we know from experience that when we become scared, our hearts shrink back, and we lose access to our knowledge and understanding. And we know from experience, when we feel courageous, a greater understanding arises in us.
Our mind is not only our brain. Our full mind, often called our Psyche, is our head, our heart and our guts. Our heart creates the story we live by, our heads can only operate within the boundaries of our hearts, and our guts give us the light and energy for what we do.
It is by educating our heart that we can play a role in better shaping the story of our lives. True education gives us this understanding, an understanding otherwise hidden from us. And by knowing our guts, our inner fire, we can learn how to add more light and energy to drive us towards a better life.
What’s the difference between modern education and true education?
Modern education fills young people up with information that they are instructed to accept on the basis of authority. It disciplines them in school. It often punishes non-conformity. Whilst it can be considered useful as a method of training, it does not nurture the stronger and more powerful aspects of our humanity.
True education aims to draw out from people their best self. This is a best self they initially might not know or can’t fully imagine. It aims to help them become more courageous, so they are better capable of both learning and thinking for themselves, so they can discipline themselves, and so they can reach their full potential as human beings.
In modern education, teachers are usually poorly respected, poorly paid and often emasculated, while working in conflicted institutions. Thankfully, there are some exceptions, and even some wonderful exceptions.
True teachers help us become better people. True teachers help us achieve our full humanity, to be our best selves, how to engage effectively with the world, and they also teach us how to defend ourselves competently against those with destructive behaviors and brutal characters.
Modern education takes place in a school building.
True education takes place in Schole. Schole, from where we get our word school, is a word meaning leisure. Not a leisure to pursue pleasure, but the leisure that best enables us to listen to ourselves, to know ourselves better and to draw out our best selves.
Modern education can be brutalizing. It can be an institutionally violent process.
In contrast, true education is a difficult, but it is a humane and rewarding journey.
Some perspectives on modern education
Modern education is more akin to training than true education. Most of the focus is on thinking within the box, on technological progress with improved analytics but without challenging the political status quo other than in a potentially incremental or narrow manner. Because of this, it arguably fails the youth in our society, and it fails our society.
Some notable thoughts on modern education:
“All over the world, as governments retreat from their traditional duty to foster the common good and reconceive of themselves as mere managers of national economies, universities have been coming under pressure to turn themselves into training schools equipping young people with the skills required by a modern economy.”J. M. Coetzee (Winner of Nobel Prize in Literature)
“[In school] I encountered authority of a different kind than I had ever encountered before, and I did not like it. And they really almost got me. They came close to really beating any curiousity out of me.”Steve Jobs (Co-founder and former CEO of Apple)
“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.”Isaac Asimov (American writer)
“The established systems of education, whatever their matter may be, are fundamentally vicious in their manner. They encourage submissive receptivity instead of independent activity.”George Herbert Spencer (Sociologist)
“Men are born ignorant, not stupid. They are made stupid by education.”Bertrand Russell (Philosopher)
“[Education acts with the] Primary function of transmitting to successive generations the prevailing values of the given society.”M. I. Finlay (former Cambridge Professor)
“The [elite modern educational] system manufactures students who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it”William Deresiewicz (former Yale Professor)
Others, like Gustave Le Bon, considered that modern educational systems lead to increased criminality and that they indirectly transform many young people into enemies of society, and recruit others into radical and anarchistic groupings.
In contrast, true education first aims to draw out our best self, so we are then better able to learn, better able to think for ourselves, and better able to engage effectively with the world.
Why is true education essential for our society?
New human beings are born into our world every year. Modern education aims to get them to fit into society, not to rock the boat and to work hard to improve the lot of the older generation. True education puts younger people first. It does not put them through a sausage machine. It aims to help them flourish as full human beings and helps them to positively and constructively engage with society, both for their benefit and for the benefit of all.
Because of inequality and other issues in our society, some young people begin life with significant disadvantages. Performing well in school can help overcome some of these disadvantages. But modern schooling on its own is only a servile education. It is important to respect traditions and norms and build on our inheritance from our ancestors. But young people must also be able to look beyond this. They are our future.
We have significant and regressive inequity in our society. Extreme inequality, discrimination and racism and other factors make life significantly more difficult and unfair for a large section of young people. True education is one method that can help level the playing pitch, to enable the flourishing of all the talent of all our young people, not just a privileged few. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Every step of civil advancement makes every man’s dollar worth more”. We are in life together and it’s important to remember that we benefit from the flourishing of others and from our own flourishing.
Black Lives Matters highlights the problem of racism and the inequity that results from it in our society. Martin Luther King famously said that, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”. This website shares Martin Luther King’s dream for all young people around the world by aiming to help them develop the content of their characters.
All the above is important because the essential need for true education is that a democracy is founded on the principle that power is in the hands of individuals with the character of a citizen. When the individuals who have power do not have the character of a citizen, the democracy becomes corrupt and power moves into the hands of those who are not acting in the interest of society as a whole to the detriment of the welfare of all.
How does true education work?
The approach used in this website is to offer to the readers the advice, guidance and thoughts of those who have made great strides towards reaching their full human potential and becoming their best selves. The website uses the great characters of humanity as our teachers.
Along with Albert Einstein, it advocates Schole for education. He said, “I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn”. Along with Galileo, it advocates that “You cannot teach a person anything; you can only help him discover it within himself”.
The aim is to enable self-education by also offering a test for website users to assess objectively how well they have drawn out their best selves, and to offer them some feedback so they can know themselves better.
What does true education achieve?
Education aims to bring out in each of us the character of a citizen that can both help each of us live great lives and equally can help create a great society around us.
The essential difference between true education and modern education is that true education helps us understand stories, their relevance and their importance. When we are asked to tell others about ourselves, we typically tell a story. It’s this story that matters in true education, our stories, how we can make the stories better, not just for ourselves but for our society.
In contrast, modern education mostly only gets us to think within the box, to carry out tasks or conduct analyses within stories given to us. True education empowers us to do much more.
Stories, or narratives as we often call them, are more important because narratives are where power resides. Telling stories that speak to others, that others can see a role in those stories that they would like to play, is an essential tool in being a leader and in creating change. Telling stories like this is difficult, but true education teaches us how to do this. Developing the wherewithal to tell the right story is one of the indirect aims of true education. It helps us to be able to shape the story of our lives rather than just following a script in another story.
What can a citizen do?
A person who has attained the character of a citizen will have the wherewithal to differentiate people according to their character:
- A citizen can differentiate the character of, say, Nelson Mandela and Donald Trump, and recognize that Mandela was a better human being than Donald Trump because of the content of their characters.
- A citizen knows that whoever controls the narrative has the power. They can spot brutish rhetoric, for example, that of Donald Trump, and recognizing that it is designed to appeal to base instincts, to benefit Trump rather than society. They will know themselves well enough not to be sucked in by it and instead be able to create alternative narratives that lead others in better ways.
- A citizen needs to understand money and its power. They need to understand how to earn money, and when they have it, how to manage money and how to invest it well. We need citizens to manage our economies. This is particularly the case now when Central Banks are currently printing money in a way that is selling the integrity of our monetary systems because they don’t have wherewithal to do anything better.
Examples of the benefits of knowing yourself
One simple example of the benefits of knowing yourself is to know how important it is to have self-belief. We need to believe in ourselves. We need to believe in our potential. Otherwise we cannot achieve our dreams. Self-belief is not about over-confidence or being arrogant. It is about believing, deep inside you, that you can be better. It is about believing in your capacity to be better. On its own, this doesn’t make us better. We still need to work hard and overcome adversity. But we must start with self-belief, and we must nurture it in ourselves and in others.
“It’s lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believe in myself”Muhammad Ali
Another example of the usefulness of knowing ourselves are the benefits that come from better self-awareness. When we are tired or upset we usually make poor decisions. Being aware that we are tired or upset might not help us make good decisions, but it can help us avoid making poor decisions.
Another example, a deeper one, is about better awareness of our psychological hungers and knowing how to feed these hungers in healthy ways. We know when we are hungry for food. We learn that eating healthy food makes us feel healthier and better able to do what we want to do in life. Most of us do not have much self-awareness of our psychological hungers, and consequently we don’t know how to feed these hungers healthily.
According to the psychologist Eric Berne, our main psychological hunger is for stimulation and sensation. When we are working towards achieving our dreams, we can create wonderful sensations in our lives, particularly when we make progress towards our dreams, but also when we learn and feel stronger for it. But when we are not doing so, we can be attracted to listening to, for example, the nonsense of a Donald Trump speech in the same way that when we are hungry and not thinking healthily, we can be attracted to eating unhealthy junk food.
The same is true with our second main psychological hunger, which is to get recognition and attention from others. We can feed this hunger in healthy ways, by working hard to get good recognition and good attention, or we can do the opposite. The same is true with our third hunger, for human contact and for our fourth, to have a structure in our lives. Creating structure and feeding this hunger is difficult. Some of the highest-paid people are those who structure other peoples’ time. Learning to feed our psychological hungers in healthy ways, through better self-awareness, makes us psychologically healthier and better able to get the best out of ourselves. As human beings, we prefer our psychological hungers fed in unhealthy ways rather than not being fed at all. Not knowing or not being aware of this leave us suffering unnecessarily in life, and we can become fodder for demagogues like Donald Trump and others who prey on our hungers for their own benefit rather than for our benefit and the benefit of society.
A final example is about better knowing how to win and to avoid losing. The psychological Eric Berne also tells us that the psychological difference between winners and losers. He said that winners do not talk about what they will do if they win, and they know what they will do if they lose. In the opposite way, losers talk about what they do if they win, but haven’t thought about what they’ll do if they lose. Better self-awareness helps us to check whether we are in a winning mind-frame or a losing mind-frame so we can either act or take corrective action so as to engage more effectively with the world.