Integrating Values in Education – Moving From ‘Me’ to ‘We’
Until and unless education enables us to move from ‘me’ to ‘we’—which is possible only by linking it with spirituality—chaos and confusion and self-centeredness will continue to dominate individual life and collective life.
By Swami Muktananda
The motivating factor at every point in our life is the desire to move from a sense of inadequacy, incompleteness and insufficiency to a sense of adequacy, completeness and sufficiency. Problems arise, however, when, despite all our efforts, sufficiency, completeness and adequacy seem always to move farther and farther away. And so, people often end up with grumblings and complaints. Therefore, each person has to devise a technique to be happy and contented and at the same time become dynamic, creative and cheerful. To reach this stage, bringing in the spiritual dimension in all that we think, talk and do is a must. This dimension must inform our education system, too.
Purpose of Education
Generally, people think that education is simply a means for knowing more about the world, to help us make more discoveries and inventions that can provide us with more creature comforts and to enable us make a decent living. Over time, education seems to have unknowingly and unwittingly got separated from spirituality, with the result that it has led to people being concerned only with ‘I’’, ‘me’ and ‘mine’. This is the bedrock for disharmony, discontentment, frustration, isolation from others and insensitivity to the demands and sufferings of our co-creation. Until and unless education enables us to move from ‘me’ to ‘we’—which is possible only by linking it with spirituality—chaos and confusion and self-centeredness will continue to dominate individual life and collective life.
Nothing is Ours
When we come into this world, we don’t bring anything with us. And then, nobody takes anything with them when they leave this world. Whatever we have here, with us now, has been provided to us by God, through Nature and Society. Without the bounties provided through these two, nobody can survive. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the earth we stand on, the optimum body temperature that keeps us alive, the sun, minerals, metals, vitamins and so on—nothing at all has been brought by us. All these things have been provided to us by God, through Nature.
And then, all the things that make our life comfortable—we haven’t produced them ourselves. Rather, a strong prompting came in the minds of a great many people, in different parts of the world and down the centuries, who, because of their perseverance, sacrifice and love, were able to make their concepts a reality by discovering or inventing things, which we are now using.
Pay Back to Nature
In this regard, the question arises as to what the purpose of education should be. Since everything we have is given to us by God, through Nature and Society, the purpose of education should be to enable us to move from ‘me’—from concern for our own self alone—to ‘we’—to concern for the whole of the creation, including Nature and Society. In other words, education should help us expand from ‘me’ to ‘we’. It should be concerned with how we can pay back to Nature and to Society for all that we have received through them.
Pillars of Education
Education has four pillars: learning to know; learning to do (i.e. applying the knowledge that one acquires); learning to live together; and, finally, learning to be. A good way to gauge the success of modern education is to see how far it has helped build and strengthen each of these four pillars.
At the global level, there has been much technological progress, which has been instrumental in raising the material standards of living of a large number of people. So, one could say that with regard to the first two pillars of education mentioned above—learning to know and learning to do—humans have done fairly well, though there are still miles to go. But in that process, somehow we have not given sufficient attention to the other two pillars of education—learning to live together and learning to be. Not enough stress has been given to the fact of our interdependence, to the interconnectedness between ‘me’ and ‘we’, to the ethical dimension, to becoming humane, to the need to excel in everything so that we can care for Nature and give the best to the wider society, and not just to ourselves. All these things have been unknowingly sidelined in the education system.
Tremendous Crisis of Values
If we diagnose the root of the things that disturb us today, we find that it is because we are becoming more and more concerned about ‘me’ alone, even in education. Unfortunately, education has been treated as something just for building an individual’s career, with the result that it is making people more self-centered. Not that all of us may be conscious of it but the fact is that our thoughts, words and deeds—everything in fact—are becoming more ‘me to me’, instead of ‘me to we’. This reflects a tremendous crisis of values.
So,What is to be Done?
The answer is, simply put, to facilitate the process of expansion from ‘me’ to ‘we’. This is what the issue of values in education is about, for values are expressed through relationships—the ‘we’ dimension.
Values in Education
When we know that we are linked through intricate interdependence with the rest of God’s creation, the proper relationship that one should maintain with the rest of the creation is what is termed as ‘values’. How should one connect oneself with the rest of the creation is what values are all about.
Unlike other subjects, values cannot be taught. It isn’t a thought process by which we learn something from a book or a lecture. Values are not something to be brought from elsewhere. Rather, values exist as a potential buried deep inside every person, and they need to be kindled or brought out. A very effective and enjoyable way for this is to introduce to students in the classroom a live example from day-to-day life that reflects a particular value. This should happen not in a separate class, as a separate period set apart for ‘Value Education’, but, instead, should be integrated in the normal, day-to-day teaching of every subject. In this way, students can learn some potential value dimension of each lesson and in each subject—even subjects like maths and physics, subjects that many people may think do not have a value aspect. Through this, students can connect with the example and the value it contains can get kindled in them.
Suppose, for instance, while teaching her lesson for the day, a teacher briefly refers to an act of compassion she read about on the Internet or personally experienced, relating it to the lesson she’s been teaching. In this way, while learning the lesson contained in the textbook students also get a value input, learning about compassion in action, as a real-world thing. This is something that they can easily relate to.
Ideally, this provision of values should happen in every single class that a student attends. Consider what an impact this might have if every teacher is sufficiently motivated and gets committed to this practice! If on an average a child attends school 200 days a year with seven periods a day, in one year she or he could get 1400 little drops of the value dimension, in the form of real-life examples. Even if only 10 or 15% of these remains in their minds, that’s very good! From the 6th to the 12thstandard would mean seven years of schooling, and so if in every class during this period a student gets at least some value input, it would mean 1400×7 or 8400 ‘value droplets’ in all! Even if just some of it is internalized by students, it would be very beneficial and may make them much more value-conscious and humane beings.
This process of kindling values can be done through the teacher, providing students with real-world examples so that students can directly connect themselves to them. In this way, nurturing values doesn’t remain simply an academic exercise. This approach to kindling values also enables the various subjects students learn to be more life-related.
If you have a bucket full of dirty water and you want to fill it with pure water, what you need to do is to keep pouring pure water in it. Overtime, gradually, if you continue doing this persistently, the dirty water will flow out and the bucket will be full of pure water. Similarly, if we familiarize students with the value dimension in every lesson they attend in the form of daily-life, real-world examples along with and linked to the text that they are studying, whatever may be the negative forces outside, this effort will be able to promote positive value-orientations in their minds, and hopefully a day will come when they will become committed to serve God through serving Nature and Society as their education helps them expand from ‘me’ to ‘we’.
(Swami Muktananda heads Anandashram, a spiritual centre based near Kanhangad, Kerala. For more about Anandashram’s initiatives for value-integrated education, see www.vitalforeducation.org)