Monday, 28 April 2014

What we need to teach at school from a young age as a compulsory subject, is ethics. This is important if we, as human beings, want to evolve to the level where we can interact with each other with civility and not constantly come to loggerheads over the slightest provocation nor keep inherited hatred alive for the next thousand years.  Rather than instiling the notion that we are divided by the differences in our beliefs and that the religion that we follow is, by virtue of us embracing it or because we are born into it, is the one most favoured by a supernatural deity and thus guaranteeing us a good life in the hereafter, we should rather refine our understanding of what being human is all about.

We should, as the Dalai Lama says, go beyond religion. We should instead find that essence of what makes us special as a species on this planet: our common humanity. We share the same desire for happiness, security and harmony. We are all vulnerable to the ills and troubles that our flesh is heir to, here on this earth. Thus our basic humanity is the code we should live by.  Rather than teaching a particular belief that becomes the basis of how we interact with others and how we judge other people as well as how we define our identity, better teach at school practical skills that our children can apply in their everyday life and serve them well into the future as socially mature members of the human community.

For example, along with good manners, we can also teach them the importance of adopting good ethics such as treating all fellow humans equally and with respect, and showing compassion, kindness and tolerance for others. Stuff that the holy books already mandate, but without the trappings of the different religious hues that, if anything, often end up distorting the definition of those ethical behaviours, such as picking and choosing whom to practice kindness and tolerance upon. The human history after all, is one of never ending conflicts mainly for religious and territorial dominance. As the Sage Mahatma Gandhi says: if we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children. And the first thing that we need to teach them, again to quote Gandhi, is that 'to give service to a single heart by a single act, is better than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.'

The other important thing to teach children from an early age is science and the importance of inquiry. Better to teach them about the 'god particle' than about God, the definition of which and the knowledge of whom is still until now, a matter of belief, heresay and point of contention. For if we teach them of what science has managed to reveal and continues to reveal, that our planet is a minuscule grain of sand in a shore consisting of gazillions of planets, in a zillion galaxies that make up our ever expanding Universe, then perhaps it will help us put things in perspectives and make us realize what is important and not so important about how we conduct our lives, build our societies and treat the planet. It might even instil a real sense of awe and appreciation of the existence of a bigger thing beyond us that is far above our own blinkered convictions and narrow beliefs.

And when we encourage children to inquire on the nature of things and to ask questions, we plant the seeds for knowledge to grow. We allow their minds to develop and mature into enlightened and thinking individual that can see reality for what it is, rather than be stunted by spoonfed dogmas and barely understood convictions that might keep them in the straight and narrow, and yet ill-prepared to face the world in all its variety and diversity. The desire to ask questions, to show doubt and to search for knowledge, far from taking us away from the notion of divinity and the fear of God, probably takes us closer to the ideal that we are created for. That is to realize our full potentials as a human being and to perfect our humanity.

Science and constant inquiry will also teach us humility about our place in the planetary and cosmic order of things. And that contrary to our solipsistic belief that life and the world is all about us and that God's main preoccupation in the Universe is to monitor our moral health and decide who gets to go to heaven or to hell, humanbeing is just one specie out of many on the planet and, by the way we multiply, use and consume our environment, is probably not unsimilar in nature to a virus or a parasite. Moreover, ours may not even be the only living planet in the Universe. For all we know, we could even be an experiment gone wrong.

Art is also another subject that should be mandatory at school. Appreciation of art allows young minds to develop their finer sensibilities, making them aware of the beauty and creativity in Nature and the world about them. It is through the different manifestations of Art that often gives meaning to life and where we can experience at our most individual and soul level, a taste of the Immortal and even, the Divine.

(Desi Anwar:  First Published in The Jakarta Globe)


  1. Kid-wise, I find us adults very strange—instead of planting in them basic values (good deeds, tolerance.. etc in the simplest way possible, much like what you said here), we take the childhood away from them (can't be more cruel than this, I guess).

    Putting kids into position where they need to have the appearance (or to maintain some labored manner) as if they were adults, and we say that's cool. Worse, instead of teaching them how to listen (and to ask, for that matter), we even encourage them to give advice (you know, 'dai cilik' or such), and say that's cool. And we say we love them. :D

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