Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Help! I'm being educated...

I recently watched the British film An Education. The main character, Jenny, is a promising A-level student in 1960s suburban London with aspirations for Oxford, whose life takes a U-turn when one day she meets a man twice her age. He opens up for her a world she had never even dreamed off: parties, expensive restaurants, concerts, new clothes... In comparison her old life seems extremely dull and senseless. In this context Jenny makes the following remark to her headmistress : "It's not enough to educate us any more, Mrs Walters. You've got to tell us why you're doing it" These words stuck with me. Why is education so important? As a Jesuit we are asked to study for quite some time and most of us have done studies before becoming a Jesuit. I believe the answer to the question is helpful not only to Jesuits, a rather rare breed of human being, but to all students, since the answer to the question might prevent us from doing it for the wrong reasons.

University studies make me invariably become aware of my own intellectual limitations. I am certain that this is a reasonably common experience. If by chance I would meet Socrates and tell him about my ordeal, he would smile and say: 'You are on the road to wisdom'. I would reply: 'That's great, Soc, but could you qualify that suggestion?' 'Sure thing, Sam. There are two attitudes to be discerned here: one of acceptance, the other of denial, and only the former will puts you on the path to wisdom. So, which are you on?' Whatever the answer, being confronted with one's own limits is not a pleasant awareness. Especially not when one's self-image is harmed by it, and certainly not when one is terrified that others will find out who you really are. And the temptation with regards to something painful is to run away as fast as possible. When this denial happens in the intellectual ambit, it is called the sin of intellectual pride, a very nasty sin indeed. Well hidden behind the lofty aspirations to academic excellence lies the illusion that only academic success and the admiration of one's peers and teachers is what makes one a good person. As a result, when a student who suffers from this ill is confronted with his or her own limitations, he or she tries to stow away these limitation and forget about them.

How can we recognise intellectual pride in ourselves? Unfortunately, intellectual pride makes us blind for our own shortcomings. As a result, we need some kind of shock therapy to unmask this illusion of self-sufficiency. Sometimes it is a word of a good friend, or sometimes a very bad essay. Most of the times it is just a prolonged feeling of unfulfilledness that makes us question our assumptions about ourselves. Yes, it is painful, but it could be wholesome as well. For only when we lose sight of ourselves (this is what we can call the attitude of humility), can we see again the true purpose of study. Not self-glorification but service of others.

One day, when I was feeling very unhappy with myself again, I suddenly remembered vividly one of the reasons of why I have become a Jesuit: in order to help others find God. And suddenly I found myself free from the anxiety that had been plaguing me for quite some time. I knew again why I was studying and I remembered again that I had no real desire to be admired by others. On the contrary, the aspiration that led me to this way of life was that of seeing other people leading a fulfilled life.

Did Mrs. Walters come up with an answer for Jenny? No, and neither did Jenny. And that's all right. I suppose education will only obtain its full meaning when it is put at the service of others, when its fruits can be seen in the smile of our neighbour. It is helpful as a student to be reminded once again of that simple truth


  1. "Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything one learned in school." - Albert Einstein

  2. Hmmm. Now I understand what happened to me in school this semester. Thanks for sharing!

  3. This couldn't have come at a better time. I'm four weeks away from finishing my degree and there's some rather big essays between now and then. I'm petrified - but what of? Failure - the sin of intellectual pride? Why? If I pass I thank God, if I fail surely this could be the biggest learning curve of my life. Refocus, recentre what I believe to be important, work hard, pray and trust in God.

  4. Thank you for sharing this. I wish you all the best for your coming essays. I am also writing mine at the moment.


We'd love to hear what you think, but please remember to keep it on point and civil. All comments are moderated.