Winning the biggest race
By Jim Poling Sr.
H. G. Wells, the English author of The War of the Worlds, once wrote that human history “becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.”
In today’s unsettled times it appears that catastrophe is winning.
Despite literacy rates increasing, the world seems less civil, less tolerant and less well-ordered. Those three characteristics all are products of good education. Education, and the human qualities it allows us to develop, is our best defence against catastrophes.
That’s worth thinking about as millions of children return to schools where they will receive classroom teaching in mathematics, reading and writing, science and other traditional subjects. If they are lucky, they might get some lessons on how to become better human beings.
It’s that last sentence that has me wondering whether our education systems need a rebalancing in terms of what and how they teach. Are they teaching too much of the stuff that helps us to acquire high-paying, high-influence work, and not enough about how to be thoughtful, caring, ethical individuals?
Certainly there is ample evidence that our society needs a heavy dose of education on how to behave.
Bullying, for instance, has become a major issue in our schools. On our streets and highways, road rage is costing us much in money, injuries and deaths. On social media and other internet sites we see people who toss aside thoughtfulness and tolerance the moment their fingers touch a keyboard.
In politics we see purposeful dialogue abandoned in favour of boisterous intolerance, totally lacking civility. Many politicians forget, or simply ignore, the fact that there is a critical link between civility and ethics.
Respect for others is a cornerstone of ethics, which teaches us to treat people with empathy and not simply for our own personal advantage.
Our school systems should put more emphasis on, and more resources into, teaching character building. They could take a page – in fact a few pages – from what I consider to be the very best of educations; the Jesuit school system.
Yes, Jesuit education is faith based, part of the Roman Catholic Church which has its own problems. But look beyond the religious connection to see how the Jesuit system teaches the best of human values. It is a system that promotes intellectual competence, a commitment to justice and openness to growth.
It aims to train leaders in fields ranging from politics, to entertainment and sports. Anyone who looks up a list of Jesuit alumni might be surprised to see the number of names in leadership positions.
Not all Jesuit educated persons follow the lessons of commitment to justice and ethical values. A recent example is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who argued last week that jobs are more important than ethics.
That basically was his response to the Ethics Commissioner’s report that he violated the Conflict of Interest Act when he tried to have then-justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould let Quebec-based engineering firm SNC-Lavalin off the hook on criminal charges.
It is not that the prime minister did not know that what he was doing was ethically wrong. His early education was at College Jean-de-Brebeuf, the Jesuit school also attended by his father Pierre, Canada’s 15th prime minister.
However, that’s a discussion for another time, in another place and by other people. The point here is that the Jesuit education system, as well as some others, offers examples of what is needed in our public school systems.
Our public schools need more emphasis on teaching students how to take responsibility for themselves, as well as how to advocate intelligently for themselves and their beliefs and principles. They need to teach students the need to gather and analyse facts before making judgments.
Many potential catastrophes exist in our world. Wars, climate change, mass migrations of people, drug epidemics, gun violence are just a few that threaten our existence. However, all potential catastrophic problems can be solved, or at least alleviated.
The keys to our continued existence are better educated populations, which can be built by making education our most important priority.
Ours has become a world of thoughtless social media, too much junk TV and “populist” leaders who talk and think like gangsters.
We can do better with better education, and win the race against catastrophe.