UPSC MAINS 2015 ESSAY No. 4: Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make a man more clever devil.

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Education gives awareness and information. It gives knowledge and knowledge is power. It gives skills and enables us to seek good career opportunities, livelihood, and opportunities for earning wealth, name and fame. It gives moral values and emancipates us as a human being.

Education has multiple roles to play. It is ironic; however, that emancipatory role of education has given way to the utilitarian role. Education has fast become a means to learn the skills which makes us smarter at the market place rather than making a good human being. A professional, an entrepreneur, a political leader, a doctor or a teacher or whatsoever; devoid of human values all of them are just like a robot or programmed computers to accomplish certain tasks for his or her employers benefit. The purpose of education should go much beyond that. Education is not just skill and attributes needed to get money and power, it is also a means to learn and inculcate values and character that lead to changes in personal as well as social lives for betterment of life in general and for making the world a beautiful place to live.

Education helps us to understand our self interest and enables us to adopt suitable strategies to achieve our self interest. Pursuit of self interest is one of the greatest symbols of individual freedom and liberty. There is nothing to be ashamed about this. But unabashed pursuit of self interest without caring for its repercussions on others or society at large takes us to a blind alley from where there is no return and we end up like the greedy fellow of Tolstoy’s story ‘how much land does a person need’. He knew that he can own as much land as he runs through, and he ran through the whole territory of the king, only to fall down breathless and die finally.

Education leads to develop logical capacity and communication skills in us. It also helps us to devise suitable strategies to achieve our goals. But if we are not taking the lessons of emancipatory part of education, not learning moral values and not inculcating good character, education can make us devils for each other who can go to any extent in their Darwininan struggle for existence and cut throat competition for wealth and hegemony.

Stephen Covey rightly points out that for success in career, we need personality attributes but for success in life we need character attributes.

The popularity of ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, authored by Stephen R. Covey is based on the distinction he made between the character ethic and the personality ethic. Significantly, the sub-title of this book is: ‘Restoring the character ethic’. In stark contrast, almost all the literature in the first 150 years of motivational literature or so focused on what could be called the Character Ethic as the foundation of success: things like integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, patience, industry and modesty. The Character Ethic taught that there are basic principles of effective living, and that people can only experience true success and enduring happiness as they learn and integrate these principles into their basic character. But shortly after World War I the basic view of success shifted from the Character Ethic to what we might call the Personality Ethic. Success became more a function of personality, of public image, of attitudes and behaviors, skills and techniques that lubricate the processes of human interaction. This Personality Ethic essentially took two paths: one was human and public relations techniques and the other was positive mental attitude. Some of this philosophy expressed by Stephen Covey is very inspiring and sometimes he has used valid maxims such as “Your attitude determines your altitude,” “Smiling wins more friends than frowning,” and “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe it can achieve.” Other parts of the personality approach, however, are clearly manipulative, even deceptive, encouraging people to use techniques to get other people to like them, or to fake interest in the hobbies of others to get out of them what they wanted, or to use the “power look,” or to intimidate their way through life.

In modern life although character is considered as an important attribute for success, it does not get recognition as foundational and catalytic attribute. Reference to the Character Ethic has become mostly a lip service; the basic thrust in modern times seems on quick-fix influence techniques, power strategies, communication skills, and positive attitudes. Here lies the fault of the process of our education system, formal as well as informal. No amount of ambition and mundane success can bring fulfillment and happiness if we ignore moral values and justified means. We can bulldoze all the fellow beings who appear to us only as a competitors in pursuit of success. In such a blind pursuit we do not value fellow feeling or other people’s dreams. We are extremely focused in the pursuit of our own success and self interest with killers’ instincts.

Success at any cost is the sense and sensibility in which we live. In the process we do not remain human and become robots, which are heartless and value free. Success may come to us but at the end we are not having a sense or feeling of fulfillment. It is because of lack of values. David Starr Jordan, a leading educationist, and founding President of Stanford University, rightly points out that there is no real excellence in all this world which can be separated from right living.

Martin Luther King Jr. said that the function of education is to teach one to think intensively and critically. Intelligence plus character is the goal of true education. Education without character offers just a skill or knowledge that can be often used for maneuver, deception or thuggery. Theodore Roosvelt sarcastically said that a man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad. All white collar crimes in our times underscore the fact that it is not lack of education that leads to corruption, but lack of character. It is only when education succeeds in building character that people are able to use their powers constructively. There are educated people who are divisive, misleading and ill motivated. Many of them are against peace and harmony for promoting their narrow agenda. Some of them misuse power bestowed on them by people for personal benefits. All scams and episodes of corruption in the recent times in our country such as Coalgate, 2G scam or Satyam episode and insider trading in the US involving noted people like Rajat Gupta are evidence to human failure not because of lack of education, but because of palpable character. Good character and conviction in right principles never allow one to buckle under pressure or greed.

It is important to have an intelligent mind but far more important is to have good heart. Nelson Mandela has rightly pointed out that a good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. One can come with flying colours in toughest of endeavours with the combination of these two things; however, a good head without a good heart is very dangerous. What is the difference between a true soldier and a terrorist? A soldier gives life for his people and his country while a terrorist takes the lives of innocent people for ulterior motives. Soldier has both brain and heart, the terrorist has got only brain. Of late it has been seen that many educated people are inclined to pursue terrorism either in the name of religion or politics. The nascent upsurge in terrorism in the Middle East has seen many youths joining the terror groups and committing heinous crimes against humanity. Many of them are technically qualified and use their knowledge for making bombs and creating booby traps for civilians as well as police and army. Education with character can help the youth to understand the meaninglessness of indulging into terrorist and violent acts. Today the youth in the Islamic countries are being told by people like Abu Bakr that the greatest enemies of Islam are democracy and secularism and some others are propagating that if you give your life in violent jihad, you will get a place in heaven or jannat. These examples highlight how education can be used to propagate ideas which are not only irrational but against peace, harmony and progress. Character helps us to decipher and choose between good and bad acts while education only makes us aware about variety of acts.

No amount of teaching can impart education laden with value without the real role models who practice good values in life. Thus, far more effective in imparting values and virtues is to practice them. Life and action as they happen in our lives are better teachers. Oscar Wilde said, “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.” When education becomes a devil’s means, how to hasten towards our selfish goals, by hook or crook, it sets in a process of begetting thousands of devils. Jim Henson rightly says, “[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.” Formal education, therefore, has severe limitations. It is necessary that we practice the good values which education imparts us. This becomes an example for others to follow. Although it is an informal channel of education, it is far more effective as good values at play in real life have their immitigable imprint on the minds of youth.

Education should not make only eagles. It should also allow the dove inside us to develop that feeling of let hundred flowers bloom together or live and let live are needed to be inculcated for mutual coexistence of all of us with peace, prosperity and happiness. Machiavellian traits may be needed in certain circumstances; cunningness, maneuver and machination may win projects and fat salaries and profits but happiness and peace would come only through moral values. If we are confined only to the first set of attributes in our education it certainly makes us a devil for each other.

The real education should come with moral values and character. Nothing could open our eyes more than the letter that Abraham Lincoln wrote to the headmaster of his son in this regard:

“He will have to learn, I know that all men are not just and are not true….

In school teach him it is far more honourable to fall than to cheat….

Teach to have faith in his own ideas, even if everyone tells him he is wrong.

Teach him to be gentle with gentle people and tough with tough.

Try to give my son the strength not to follow the crowd when everyone getting on the bandwagon…..

Teach him to listen to all men; but teach him also to filter all he hears on a screen of truth, and take only the good that comes through.

Teach him if you can, how to laugh when he is sad… teach him there is no shame in tears.

Teach him to scoff at cynics and to beware of too much sweetness. Teach him to sell his brawn and brain to highest bidder, but never to put a price on his heart and soul. Teach him to close his ears to howling mob… and stand and fight if thinks he is right.

Treat him gently but do not cuddle him because only the test of fire makes fine steel. Let him have the courage to be impatient… let him have the patience to be brave. Teach him always to have sublime faith in himself, because then he will have faith in humankind.

This is a big order, but see what you can do… He is such a fine little fellow my son!”