By: Alexandra Medina-Leal
“Education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in adversity.” — Aristotle
In school, from primary to post-secondary, we are taught the discoveries of the great thinkers before us, who endeavoured to understand the different aspects of the universe, human relationships, society, politics, and beauty. The goal we all have is to be educated, to get our degree and the dream job at the end of it all. Having an elaborate job title and high pay check might confirm our idea that we are smart, educated, successful, and important people. But what many of us truly experience is a life-time of formal schooling that nurtures only a small fraction of our fullest potential. Many students in high school are asked at the beginning of their teenage years to choose either the sciences or the humanities; music is not always a possibility and the value of studying philosophy is seen typically as having little to no value. We cultivate only certain skills that are valuable in this era but whose lasting value is questionable. This is a far cry from a real education.
Traditionally, an education was considered a lifelong endeavour with the hope of being accomplished in many trades, rather than a specialist in just a few. A moral education, mastering social graces and wisdom through a virtuous life, elegance of speech, and modesty of the soul was paramount. Both the material and the immaterial were taught together and seen as two halves of a unified reality. Today, the two are segregated and the material is given priority. However, I believe that an education requires disciplined and well-rounded learning that ultimately transforms your being and betters your character.
But in our times, having a narrow intellectual focus is favoured over the all-encompassing education of one’s being; indeed the latter is considered an ornament. True education is unappreciated or deemed the cherry on top of a sundae built upon “real skills”. But in a world of ever growing technology and mechanisation, one has to wonder how long one’s skills will be of any use. When our jobs get replaced by machines, or cease to exist at all, it is our educated mind that we must fall back upon to help us rebuild our careers and learn a new vocational ability. Indeed, in moments of adversity – be it unemployment, political instability, or a crisis of identity – it is our cunning, creative, cultured, worldly minds which will give us refuge. We will be able to reinvent ourselves to match the needs of our time and have the ability to keep reinventing ourselves by learning new skills and abilities. An educated mind is the key to prosperity and is one of our greatest sources of power.
At the end of our lives, when our working abilities are no more, we will be left with just our minds, values, and experiences. One can only hope that we are as rich in wisdom as we have been in goods.