Ad Invicem

It’s hard to imagine the horrors taking place in Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, and, of course, Ukraine, when the water and the occasional call of a gull drifts down the river. I try to look out and think more about the peace in northern Spain than the hunger that haunts the people in South Sudan, but only because I’ve been lucky. I mean, sometimes when the Chesapeake and I are just hanging out peacefully like this, I can be painfully aware that I wasn’t raised in Mosul; I wasn’t born in Beirut.

Humanity is a crazy race, building irrigation systems to help grow food to feed millions while building methods to annihilate those poor souls in seconds. Maybe the greatest irony of education is the stretches of intelligence, research, and application it takes for the human mind to conceive, create, and execute weapons which can evaporate entire cities. The mechanics to build the means by which to destroy someone else wouldn’t cross the mind of an uneducated person. Only educated people can accomplish such a holocaust.

Doesn’t it feel like no one wants to save the world anymore? Yesterday at the White House State Dinner, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol sang Don McLean’s “American Pie.” He was good, too! This was big news today. This should be irrelevant for its commonness. It should be an expectation, not an exception.

There needs to be a new requisite in schools everywhere: Humanity 101. The subtitle could be “We are here for each other.” The course could cover the benefits of helping other people, the rewards of sharing not just gains but losses as well. There could be a lesson on compassion and one on being a good Samaritan. A sociologist might talk in one session about how what happens in one section of the globe really does have an impact on the rest, and a psychologist can show the class how to balance the beauty of nature with the evil things people say and do, which would decrease after everyone took the class.

A theologian could explain why there are, or at least needs to be, some absolute morals. That person might explain why the belief in postmortem can keep evil in check, keep the horrible potential of humanity at bay. Without preaching about salvation in heaven, they can certainly drop in a few lectures about earthly responsibility to each other, and if the fear of God is necessary to get it done, so be it; not unlike threatening toddlers who act up with the possibility of Santa skipping their house. The potential of a little supernatural backlash is just what this world could use right now.

Honestly, it seems like everyone is resigned to some sort of slow decline. Did our parents feel this way? Well, if so, they didn’t smear it all over social media. I fear for the absence in education of something other than the notion of “career.” More connections with other people can be made by sharing a meal than college administrators give credit for.

In my last class this semester I told everyone they could bring food. They brought food. Lumpia, pizza, chips, wings, donuts (and not the cheap-ass kind either—Duck Donuts, a delicacy in southeastern Virginia). We laughed and shared stories, but we also talked about what worked in our writing and what didn’t. We connected. Is food the trick? Perhaps; I really don’t know. But I know we saw each other as humans. That works.

I told my students that seeing the between times from their age to mine, them starting careers and me finishing, I learned one lesson. One. No kidding, Uno. In the end we are here for each other. That’s it. With everything else which tugs and tears at our lives, pushes us to extremes and dehydrates our ambition, in the end we simply are here for each other.

Maybe we can solve more problems by knowing what our neighbors like on their pizza than understanding the treaties that keep us apart.

Here’s the thing:

Five years ago this week I left a job I held for thirty years. I’ve thought a lot about my career then and since then, and I know for certain one absolute:

Our education system sucks. The entire thing, all of it, from K through PhD, it sucks dogs. Complete bile.

What good amid the world are these people with their expertise in engineering, computer design, programming, business management, and more, if they are not first taught to be human? The most essential aspect of all of life, of all we get educated for to begin with, is absent from the curriculum.

It should have been the foundation of all teachings since before Plato. Such a simple, simple lesson plan: “We are here for each other first.”

Then State dinners might be closer to celebrations where leaders celebrate each other rather than merely tolerate each other.

I mean, honestly, the man nailed American Pie.



From Haim Ginott:

I am a 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 by high school and college graduates.

So, I am suspicious of education.

My request is this:  Help your children become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths or educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.

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