In his book, Teacher and Child, Haim Ginott shares a letter provided to all the teachers in a school on the first day of class by their principal. It reads as follows:
I am the survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness:
Gas chambers built by learned engineers.
Children poisoned by educated physicians.
Infants killed by trained nurses.
Women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates.
So I am suspicious of education. My request is: Help your students become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they were to make our children more humane.
As we ponder education reform, it is so important to ask ourselves, “What is the goal of schooling?” We at the Institute for Humane Education believe that it should be to foster the sort of humaneness this writer addresses; that we should educate our children so that they have the knowledge, skills and desire to be conscientious, compassionate choicemakers and changemakers for a healthy and humane world. My TEDx Talk, The World Becomes What You Teach, explores this idea further and shares what such an education might look like in practice.
Many individuals share this vision of schooling and education, and many schools give lip service to this goal in the form of mission statements, yet few schools actually provide students with curricula and teaching meant to achieve it. Our national policies demand something else entirely: education focused on passing standardized tests for verbal and mathematical literacy. Until we address the fundamental purpose of schooling, we are unlikely to heed this author’s warning.
The letter above is bold. It states that the basics are important ONLY if they make our children more humane. The implication is that education that does not specifically have as its goal a more humane student is unimportant – perhaps, as we can infer from this author’s letter to teachers, even dangerous.
The greatest hope for humanity and a thriving, peaceful planet lies in education. Yet education without ethics is indeed dangerous. But whose ethics? Hitler utilized schools for the purpose of promoting Naziism and indoctrinating a generation. How can we ensure that education always promotes the good and not an ideology of hatred or violence?
The MOGO principle – to do the most good and least harm through our daily choices, work, volunteerism, and acts of citizenship – is a start. Were this principle to imbue all educational institutions and initiatives, we would educate our children with a lens that neither indoctrinates nor dictates actions. Rather, the MOGO principle, (which is described in my book, Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life), would invite creative and critical thinking among students whose studies and efforts would lead them toward the examination of their deepest values and a rigorous exploration of complex, interconnected global issues to become solutionaries for a better world through whatever studies and careers they pursue. Through their educations, they would become deeply humane people whose personal goals could never be divorced from the well-being of all.
Were we to adopt such a vision, and implement it at all levels of education, we would achieve what this Holocaust survivor proposes: a humane populace. And then we would see a better, more humane world unfold.
Zoe Weil is the president of the Institute for Humane Education, which offers the only graduate programs in comprehensive humane education. She is the author of Nautilus silver medal winner Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life; Above All, Be Kind; The Power and Promise of Humane Education, and Moonbeam gold medal winner Claude and Medea, about middle school students who become activists and rescue dogs from an evil vivisector. She has given a TEDx talk on humane education and blogs. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter at ZoeWeil.
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