Friday, September 16, 2011

Educating the Whole Person

Korean students do well in competition with students from other countries, and the percentage of high school students who go on for higher education are second to none. And the number who go on to  study overseas would also rank high. Embedded within the culture is the belief that success in life depends on education. This desire for knowledge is remarkable but there is a dark side.

Most parents realize that this desire  for the benefits of education may lead to separating the head and the heart. But the pressures of society are such that it's difficult for them to protest. School studies are often supplemented with private tutoring, which is a financial strain on the family, but when other students have these opportunities, parents find it difficult to do differently.

There are efforts being made, however, within the educational system to place less emphasis on academic brilliance and more emphasis on educating the whole person. And just recently a priest, recently installed as president of a Catholic school in Seoul, indirectly alluded to these problems in his inaugural speech. Although admitting to having little background in education, he said he will  be learning by teaching, and quoted a Latin phrase in support of this intention. He does have a great deal of experience in the field of human growth, having received a doctorate from the Gregorian in spirituality.

Here are some quotes from the inaugural address, showing the direction he will be taking:

"Since the students have not established their own values they look upon  their grades  as something absolute, so if they receive low grades they consider themselves failures." He wants to nurture students that have the soul space to grow in their lives: "Persons who have the values given by Christianity as their foundation can face failure when having the soul space that allows them to see more than the failure....I hope students will have the same concern for their dignity as persons as they do for their studies." He wants students to pose ultimately important questions and to search diligently for the answers. "Like Don Quixote, in the words of Cardinal Kim, push like a fool toward the windmills, where the head and the emotions are not in conflict."

There are many, like the president of the Catholic school, who see the problems but solving them in a society that views success in good grades and winning in competition  will be difficult. It is very satisfying for a nation to be  number one in its efforts to educate its citizens, but when the standards are not helpful in cultivating a spiritually healthy human being, then the nations must consider changing the standards that have been set. This thinking  will have to become part of our common educational  legacy if we don't want to see more dropouts from society.

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