"We learn not for school, but for life."
I was a high school seminarian when former Palo, Leyte Archbishop Pedro R. Dean delivered one of the most striking homilies I had ever heard. He aptly encapsulated in six words the very foundations of seminary formation in particular, and Western education in general.
The Christian perspective in the formation of persons, he explained, draws inspiration from three fundamental lessons. The first lesson is from the ancient Greek thinker Socrates, who said “Know thyself.” It is reminiscent of the Greek obsession for knowledge and truth, laying down the foundations of Western thought. To the Greeks’ philosophy or literally, “love for wisdom”, the famous orator of ancient Rome, Cicero admonished the youth of his time, “Rule thyself.” This second lesson perfectly illustrates the Roman penchant for discipline, organization and precision. Lastly, the third is a lesson from Jesus Christ himself, who by his work and example taught us, “Give thyself.” This “new commandment of love” significantly shaped the growth of the Judeo-Christian civilization, with its emphasis on altruism, charity and servanthood.
Looking back, Archbishop Dean was correct that these simple but profound lessons help define what it means to learn, live and lead in our time. We learn by discovering the truth about ourselves made evident in the laws of nature. We live by ordering our lives and our relationships with others according to the laws of society. We lead by giving our lives in the service of others, so much as that “he who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted. (Matt. 23:12)
A fitting parallel, however, is reflected in the three Filipino words that are often used to refer to a place of learning: “paaralan”, school; “dalubhasaan”, college; and “pamantasan”, university.
The first, “paaralan”, is a Filipino word that literally means, “school.” It is derived from the root word, “aral” which means lesson, denoting how it is often used to refer to a primary or secondary school. But it also affirms the primary objective of a school, that is to teach. In the “paaralan”, students learn about the truths about the world and society, whether it be the sciences, history, and even culture. This occurs mainly in two ways: memorization and repetition. As an elementary student myself, I often wondered why English grammar lessons about nouns, pronouns, verbs and adjectives were often repeated year after year. Then, I realized that memorizing and repeating the lessons was one of the most effective ways of mastering it.
In a way, that is how we learn as students and grow as persons. Our characters are formed, in the same way that our learning competencies are shaped significantly by rote memorization and repeated action.
The second, “dalubhasaan,” is a Filipino word used to refer to a place of post-secondary education. Oftentimes, it is used as the formal Filipino translation for the word “college.” The root word of the “dalubhasaan” is “hasa”, which means to sharpen. In contrast to a school, a college provides a richer and deeper experience of the world. In the “dalubhasaan,” learning becomes therefore a product of two modalities of learner engagement—experimentation and experience. In college, we learn that our present actions will always lead to future consequences. In the same way, as college students, we learn to test our learning through experimentation, and eventually our experience teaches us that even if we fail to achieve our intended results, it is always possible to try again and improve on it.
In the same way, it is through our own experience that we enrich the way we live. By our own shortcomings, we build our self-confidence, by learning from our mistakes and resolving to do better next time. Likewise, by the experiences we share with others, we define and strengthen our connectedness with others and the world.
The third is the Filipino word used to refer to a “university”—“pamantasan.” This word is derived from the root, “pantas,” which means wise. A university, therefore, is a place for wisdom, where the learned do not only consume knowledge, but actually create new perspectives about the world and society. In contrast to the school and the college, in the university, emphasis is on creating new knowledge, and reimagining old ones, in an effort to contribute to a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the realities and phenomenon around us. A university, therefore, serves the purpose of directing the learner and the learned towards enrichment and expertise.
Finally, the “wise” seeks to share one’s expertise in building up society—be it science, politics, economics and culture. Therefore, to be “wise” is to contribute one’s strengths and extend oneself through sincere compassion. It is precisely this “wisdom” that enables people to lead and take on positions of leadership.
Interestingly, the English word, “education” is derived from two Latin words—“educare” and “educere.” “Educare” means to train or to mold. On the other hand, “educere” means to lead out or to draw out. The two Latin words both have different meanings, and express two schools of thought as to what end education really serves. The first, “educare” focuses on the transmission of long established truths, and shaping future generations according to the same mold. The second, “educere” aims to equip the young with lessons that will capacitate them to create solutions to problems yet unknown.
Our own human experience has long established that what we learn shapes how we live, and both, in turn, inspire us to lead. But the three put together—learning, living and leading—is more than just an experience of growth, but rather, it is a path towards personhood, by shaping our character and competence, by building our confidence and connectedness and by inspiring in us compassion and contribution. The hard truth is, the person who is schooled only to pass the test, however, is ill-prepared to cope with the demands of today’s rapidly changing world.
“Non scholae, sed vitae discimus.” We learn not for school, but for life.