I have failed in my foremost task – to open people’s eyes to the fact that man has a soul, there is a buried treasure in the field, and that our religion and philosophy are in a lamentable state. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, towards the end of his life
One day, when I was about eight years old, my school principal Mr Suley got up on the morning assembly and spoke from the heart. Now, more than 30 years later, I cannot remember all the details. What I do remember though, was his tone of deep concern. He spoke about war, the environment, cooperation, and simply what it means to be a decent human being. And I will never forget what he said at the end of it all.
“You are the future of this world. My generation has already had a go and we messed it up. You must do better, or we will not be here much longer.”
Of all the things anybody ever said in my schooling days, this was probably the most impactful. Here he was, an older man approaching retirement, and he decided to speak about something more than keeping the playground clean, punishing misbehaviour, or the principal’s old favourite: “Get ready because the exams are coming up.” Mr Suley spoke of life itself, and what it means to be a human being on this planet. They were words of deep meaning, words that moved me. They were moving words because they were not just spoken, but felt. I went through another ten years in the public education system after that, and I honestly cannot recall any teacher or administrator speaking with such impact, or about something so meaningful. This silence always puzzled me.
Mr Suley has probably passed on by now. I heard some years ago that he was involved in a car accident, and that his wife had been killed. I was deeply saddened. It would also have been a tragedy if he had passed up the opportunity of speaking meaningfully on the assembly all those years ago. He may not be here anymore, and maybe he suffered greatly though personal tragedy. But the seed he planted on that day lives on in the man writing this article in 2011.
Many of us can probably remember a defining moment from our younger days when a teacher, parent or elder spoke from the heart and moved us, made us think deeply. But what about public educators today? How many have ever engaged in a discussion or a lesson where they shared something from deep within? The answer for many educators is that they rarely touch upon the deeply meaningful. Why is that?
At first glance the answer might seem obvious. There is the issue of personal vulnerability. Maybe the students will ridicule or ignore them. Maybe the teacher will offend someone’s religious or philosophical beliefs. And who wants to upset parents in these times of legal accountability? Besides, it is not in the curriculum or syllabus, so why go there?
To go deep requires courage.
To go deep requires courage.
Yet (rather appropriately) the absence of meaning goes deeper. To understand why education discourses have become an effective litany of surfaces we have to look at the situation in depth. At the bottom (or perhaps “top” is a better term) of all human experience lies the transcendent, that which connects us to a greater whole, where the boundaries between self and others, individual and cosmos become blurred. And that takes us into the awkward but profound territory of human spirituality.
Yes, the dreaded “s” word.
To truly appreciate the lack of depth in modern education, media and popular culture, we must examine the way that our society has developed, who controls the dominant discourses, and the ways of knowing which under-gird them. And finally we must take into account the very way in which modern science and education view the human mind and its intelligence.
In this time of shifting global power and economic uncertainty, the restoration of cognitive depth along with associated “right-brained” cognitive processes (including spirituality), is something we can no longer ignore. The reactivation of cognitive depth is a necessity not only for economic and social stability, but for the long-term survival of the human race. The current uncertain global economic climate is the perfect time to begin to initiate change in both culture and curriculum, and expand the ways of knowing that we employ in the society and in the classroom. This is a discussion which lies at the heart of the creation of Deep Futures – futures that are profound, passionate, engaging, and most of all deeply meaningful. More money, machines and amusement for everyone is not enough. These do not fulfill the human spirit.
Crisis and opportunity often arise together. Will we grasp the chance? Or will we be yet another generation that has failed to take the opportunity, the responsibility, that we are being given.