The problem of education is worrying most of us at the present time. This seems typical of our problems today, the curriculum is as dull as is conceivable.
It is following a system of instruction that began about the beginning of the fourteenth century. Then there were the great universities that were under the cloisters of the church — the great schools like the Sapienza University of Rome, also called simply Sapienza or the University of Rome, and formally the Università degli Studi di Roma "La Sapienza" and the University of Basel in Switzerland were monuments of dignity.
The faculties were aristocratic in every sense of the word and the students were regarded as little better than trash, no matter where they came from. The professors sat in large gilded chairs or thrones and instructed the students in pedantic Latin, Greek, and whatever else happened to be the subject of the day.
There was nothing of interest, nothing vital, nothing really useful in most of the curriculum. When Paracelsus (born Theophrastus von Hohenheim) attended the University of Basel’s medical department, he observed one day in public that the small fine hair on the back of his neck knew more about the practice of medicine than the entire faculty of Basel. This endeared him, of course, and not long afterwards he was assassinated, probably with the cooperation of the medical faculty.
The actual method of instruction has varied very slightly in the last several hundred years. Of course, there are many things taught today that were not taught then. A great deal was not known about modern scientific thinking or industrialism, but they could make very dull matter out of whatever they were teaching, and the same practice persists now with what we are teaching.
Also, there seems to be very little effort on the part of formal education to prepare young people for the mystery of living. They may be able to take a job, which of course is important in our time; many suffer for years through the educational system for one reason only, and that is to find employment.
They do not expect to have any enrichment of character or development of moral overtones from the curricula. Young people today are pouring out of our various educational institutions with practically no contribution to make to the improvement of the society to which they belong. If they majored in astronomy they can count some more stars and look into the depths of black holes, but they still have no capacity for personal living. They have no training for making a success of family or home or personal life. In every branch of learning it is more or less the same — it is sterile.
We are in a very serious need of education. We are in need of the maturing of our mental lives. Most of all, we are in need of instruction which will teach us how to think. In order to learn how to think, the individual must develop his own mental resources, but in most of the educational theories we have today he is not taught how to think. He is simply told what to think and he had better agree.
The educational system is not thinking through its own procedures. It is simply taken for granted that it is a peer group, that it will always be looked up to as the highest aspect of human culture, and that it will continue to do exactly what it has done for the last seven hundred years.
What do we need, then? We need something that will harness the capacities of a person and make that person a more independent living being — a creature capable of personal decision and also possessing the courage and moral stamina to maintain a high degree of individual conduct. These things are not even discussed in most schools unless they are seminarian.
Another problem confronting us is the cost of education. It is today probably more expensive than it can ever be worth. It often forces families to forego the most important securities of life in order to educate their children.
Many college student are still working for their doctorate into their thirties and still going to school. They will probably graduate in time to retire at a time when they will be eligible for social security, and the education they received can only serve them for only a few years. In order to take up all this time they learn many things they never needed to know and assembles a mass of opinions, beliefs, and doctrines that will never be of the slightest use to them in the problems of daily living.
We are confronted, therefore, with the need perhaps for the reestablishment of an apprenticeship system in education. We need to have individuals educated for their jobs by persons who know the job. They should learn by doing and not by sitting in the back of an immense class. This type of thing produces not thinkers but cut-out characters in streams of people who are not able to face the emergencies of life with anything resembling dignity.
The apprenticeship system would be economical for all concerned, and very much more useful. For one thing, the individual would learn with comparatively less cost to the family — a small cost, perhaps, but nothing in comparison to sending that same young person through a university course. Instead of going to school to learn something he will never use, he has the right to select that which he believes he wishes to do and learns how to do it by people who are doing it, instead of people who are reading it out of a textbook. There is no question that some do better than this but there is also no doubt that there is a tremendous amount of wasted time, wasted money and, more than that, crippling of the potentials of the individual.
Another aspect of education is the repetition of procedure that is constantly adding to the cost of education. There is absolutely no excuse for dissection as it is now used in medical colleges. The idea that each one has to go through it himself is a completely devastating thing and a great many are being offended so seriously they are leaving the colleges because they do not want to participate in the death or torture of animals. If it has to be done, one university can do it, and all the others can simply watch the film.
This is true in many other fields where personal experience is not important in the sense that it is an observational procedure and a good film can be just as effective as any other way.
Also in the various procedures of scientific training we used to have what might be called the belles-lettres or the humanities. We had courses for individuals who did not know why they were going to the university. They were going because their parents, friends, relatives and so forth thought they should. Also, they were going for social contacts and the hope of either a better marriage or a more fortunate circle of acquaintances. This type of education is now practically defunct.
Way back in the dawn of a culture and civilization, education was almost completely a matter of association, of the individual being with others of his own kind. When Socrates gave one of his discourses he first prayed to the spirits of the place and then told his disciples what he thought they ought to know, after which the subject was open to questions and discussions. The teacher became a kind of parent, a godfather, a wisdom teacher over the lives of his disciples. In the Orient it was a group of novices sitting under a tree with a guru, learning and studying the things that made life important to them. Everywhere in antiquity education was largely a family or community affair.
Our great securities, our great hopes and our great fulfillment lie in the acceptance of our proper destiny. Where in the world are we going to go unless these facts become part of the basic training of every child that comes into this world? Why do we hope that we can sow in corruption and reap in security? We cannot do it. Everything has to be according to its own rules. The beginning of education, therefore, is to learn the rules of life.
Education is impossible without a concept of universal purpose. No one can be educated who simply thinks in terms of one little life span and how he can accumulate as much as possible to leave to someone who does not deserve it, has not earned it. We need a better vision and as we have a better vision we will have better health, quality, and longer length of life.
We are destroying ourselves by wrong attitudes and no one can save us from them but ourselves. We must know that the primary end of education is for each individual to grow up into the use of his own potentials, and share with others every virtue and value that he possesses. If we begin to think and act in this direction, in the course of time we can solve our problems.