Wisdom and Children

(This is the beginning of a conversation. Seán Rose—interfaith activist and Young Spirit board member—has accepted my invitation to bat around some ideas here. We’re not sure yet where it will lead…)

Seán –

First of all, thanks for joining this dialogue with me. I like dialogue because it breaks up the monologue (which is usually what goes on in my head). I look forward to talking with you here; I know we share a passion about education. I hope we don’t agree so much that readers just gag and click away. So please feel free to say something inflammatory once in a while.

If you could sum up the purpose of education in one word, what would it be?

For me that word is wisdom. At my school I read a lot of applications where parents have to write about their educational goals. They talk about things like finding happiness, showing curiosity, exploring the world, gaining awareness of different points of view, getting along with others. These are not the usual “academic” goals that drive many school administrations.


How is happiness found? How is curiosity developed? How do people get along? These qualities require experience in the world, with personal surprises and tests along the way. You might say we can’t really teach wisdom at all; it is hard won by those who seek it. “We all love to instruct, though we can teach only what is not worth knowing.” (That’s from Jane Austen, one of my personal sources of wisdom.)

I think the point is that instruction is a very blunt instrument, and it only works one way. To awaken wisdom takes relationship, which comes through an invitation to engage in a more intuitive way. If my students just repeat what I’ve told them, I can’t even be sure they understood, much less that it matters to them.

This idea of what matters is huge. What is the purpose of school if it doesn’t really matter to the people it is supposed to benefit? And I mean “matters” in a personal sense, with feeling and intense desire. I suppose you could say that school always matters in a functional way, the same way filing a tax return matters. But that is hardly the path toward happiness, curiosity, and awareness of the world.

What do you think?

— Theodore

Theodore TimpsonComment