Any educational institution that works has a critical mass of participants (staff, faculty, and students) naïve enough to believe in the humanizing effects of education rather than its mere correlation to future earning potential. The former goal is abstract, but the benefits immediate and cumulative. The latter goal is concrete, but remote, speculative, and utterly uninspiring. It’s ironic that in the context of a broader culture that prioritizes activities which produce immediate gratification, the core of our educational ethos is simply a prophesy that “Learning this now will generate more material prosperity for you in the future.” We have incentivized a child’s present concentrated effort—extending for what must seem to him an interminable expanse of years—with the promise of future ease, comfort, and suburban respectability. What an easily discounted reward for present efforts! No wonder the students only pretend to learn as we pretend to teach.
Cynicism is enemy of education. It is the cloak of the insecure and the slothful. What we must have the courage to offer, the skill and sensitivity to provide; what the students must be bravely naïve enough to pursue is learning for the joy of it, for the cultivation of our faculties, for the expansion of not only our imaginations but our sympathies, for the command of the analytical tools of reason that render our lives together more intelligible, and for the ennobling of our hearts. The goal should be to see the world as it is, to love it, and to contribute to it meaningfully. The goal is to become more fully human.