Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Irrigating Deserts: On Education

The modern age is defined by reason; our culture shuns emotionalism. The mantra for modern education is to teach students to ignore their hearts and think with their heads. In some ways, this approach seems right. As an educator, my experience with young people is that they can be very sentimental, if not down right silly at times. But I think educators toss out the baby with the bath water. We ought not to counter silly emotions by eliminating the importance of emotions all together. As C.S. Lewis writes, “The right defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments.”

The irony is that we have elevated “reason” so high in our culture, that it has no practical application. We often distinguish “book learning” from real life experiences. Modern students are unable to make the applications from book learning to real life experience because education has sought to limit learning to the mind alone. But life is mind, body and soul. Except for the occasional Scrabble game or cross word puzzle, book learning doesn't seem to apply to living. Students are making life decisions based on their limited life experiences, rather than gleaning from the collective experiences of humanity found in books. So although we have taught our students not to be swayed by sentimentalism, they still do extraordinarily dumb things. As Lewis writes, “A hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.”

If we want our students to “care” about learning, we need to put the heart back into the picture. I am not calling for warm and fuzzy, touchy feely, mushy gushy stuff: the “how does this poem make you feel?” sort of thing. Rather, how does this poem teach you to live—mind, body and soul? Lewis calls it the “chest”—“the head rules the belly through the chest, the seat of Magnimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments.” Not random emotions, but rather organized and informed emotions.

We need to awaken the hearts of our students to not only love learning, but to love life well lived.

“For every one pupil who needs to be guarded from a weak excess of sensibility there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity. The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts.”—C.S. Lewis

(All quotes taken from C.S. Lewis’s “Men without Chests”, The Abolition of Man.)

4 comments:

barbara said...

Glad to find you up and writing again...

Of course I have to go and read my own life issues into this post. In regards to the baby question, the temptation is to be too reason filled (I'll be tired, it's expensive, bigger van, people will mock me....). The notion that I can make this decision "rationally" is not really the point. The Lord is God over head and heart, and while you are right about not getting all mushy gushy (how would having another baby make me "feel"), I do need to look at this in terms of Life: Biblical worldview life.

Oh what have you done Mr. Johnston...? Here I go "thinking" again!:-)

Kristina said...

here, here!

This is in large part the reason I finally got off my butt and began writing curriculum this past year (as opposed to grumbling about it not being 'out there'). If no one buys it by the tonne, I will be fine with that ... but one does need to be true to oneself.
To thine own self be true ... hey, that sounds like it would make a great quote ...
kristina

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