The difference between Educating and Teaching… and the emptiness inside

I have decided to translate into English a post I did in French over the weekend due to the interesting discussion that it provoked. An article, entitled (for you francophones) « Il y a un divorce entre enseignement intellectuel et formation morale », by Jacqueline de Romilly, published in Le Figaro on October 29, 2008, inspired this post.

The article features a speech by Jacqueline de Romilly on the state of education and teaching in France. Education is a subject dear to my heart both personally and professionally. In a post I wrote earlier this year, I touched on the topic addressed in the speech by Ms. de Romilly, writing about the differences between education and training.

EducationWhile teaching relates to the transmission of knowledge and intellectual learning, Ms. de Romilly stresses the importance of education in the larger scope, including the transmission of values. “Education … means enabling someone to develop and flourish with his own qualities; for human beings, such human qualities relate to the spirit, character and suitability for life in society.” She cites three major problems in French ‘education’: (1) the poor knowledge of the language which affects the ability to communicate [with a risk of giving way to violence]; (2) a poor understanding of history and, therefore, of one’s past and one’s culture; and (3) a lack of reading of literature that is formative in the development of ideas and one’s imagination, not to mention what one can learn via certain iconic characters.

A fundamental concept is that the education of children begins at home. For example, at the dinner table, a family can forge links, telling stories and, at the same time, transferring the family history. But, today, with the quest for time, broken families and stress of work, the transmission of values, personal history and sharing of free time have become rare commodities for a child. I also know that the French philosopher, Luc Ferry, would approve when I say that we, as parents, must cultivate the passion for — and reading of — great classics, in which there are real lessons of life. In fact, it is vitally important for a child to develop his or her passion(s). Through this passion, a child will cultivate his/her curiosity, learn, connect and ultimately give meaning to his/her life.

Extending the concept of education beyond academia, I am a strong believer in the educational value of sports: how to work as a team, be a leader, to deal with physical challenges, to learn to win or lose with grace. Of course, sports are not all equal in the transmission of these values and are not necessarily for everyone. But for many, sport is also a avenue to channel one’s [excess] energy. In another domain, I believe deeply in the importance of performance arts, such as theatre and dance. Participating in theatre at school (I had roles in a dozen plays) was very formative for me – theatre called for the development of the self, opened me up to the diversity of personalities, and exercised my communication skills and stage presence. In England and university in the United States, I also greatly appreciated the art of debate – an environment that hones one’s talents in defending one’s ideas. It also serves to sharpen communication skills and how to compete in a public forum.

What struck me in the article by Ms. de Romilly was the way in which what she described echoed with the state of education – and society more broadly – in the United States. Ms. de Romilly does not cite the influence of the Internet which is normal to the extent the Internet is merely a tool and not at the root of the problem. But she could have expanded about the lack of attention span of children, distracted by the hyper-visual world, the addictive online games, chat rooms without profound meaning, and so on. Across the Atlantic in the US, a book was released this summer called “Why We Hate Us,” by Dick Meyer. In a similar sense, but coming from a completely different angle, Mr. Meyer writes of the lack of interest that have vis-à-vis each other. For Mr. Meyer, hate is not the hatred of fear & loathing, but the hate as in “oh, [women] don’t you just hate it when the men start talking about sports.” The level of conversation in suburban dinners in the United States, says Meyer, pushes some Americans to seek solitude, isolation (at the very least, it does nothing to encourage meaningful bonding). The conversation is too dehumanized. Many are disappointed by the lack of culture, the lack of depth – and indeed, the dulling effect of being permanently “politically correct.” Americans, he writes, naturally turn to the Internet to find interaction with others who share a specific passion, people who are present at any time within social media networks. Is the same phenomenon currently spreading to France?

Taking a helicopter view on Ms. de Romilly’s speech, I would say that teaching in France focuses too much on academics in general and should incorporate a broader scope on “education,” such as sports, theatre and even debate. With the emphasis on subject matters that promote the left side of the brain (maths, sciences…), schooling in France is flawed and gives less chance for children to blossom fully. Both Ms. de Romilly and Mr. Meyer talk about their values as “old” values; yet, even if some consider them retroactive, these are, in my opinion, timeless values and seem – in some circles, at least – to find a resonance on both sides of the Atlantic (and, of course, the Channel, too).

Blogs that have written on the book “Why We Hate Us”:

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