Education = Ecstasy? A worthy equation!

Happy New Year! When I wasn’t shoveling snow during the recent silly season I had a chance to read a book that I’d been hoping to read for a long time. Published in 1968, George B. Leonard’s ‘
Education and Ecstasy’ is a tidy little book of under 250 pages, probably consigned to be shelved with the ‘radical’ literature of the ’60s.

I found it to be a delightful read, a page-turner of remarkable relevance and much more accessible than ’60s ed-lit by Ivan Illich or Neil Postman. Below I share some excerpts. Radical? You be the judge.

“Our expectation of what the human animal can learn, can do, can be remains remarkably low and timorous. Our definition of education’s root purpose remains shortsightedly utilitarian. …Conventional schooling … is still a place where people are trained to split their world into separate symbolic systems, the better to cope with and manipulate it.”

Dated? Not at all. Verifiably accurate.

“Grades, tests, prizes, honors have proven woefully inadequate as motivators for learning, even at the height of the Civilized Epoch. … When learning becomes truly rewarding for its own sake – and this goal has been given up for centuries – then narrow competition will be seen for what it is: irrelevant to the learning process and damaging to the development of free-ranging, lifelong learners.”

Wrapping up eight years of the dismal drudgery of ‘No Child Left Behind’ underscores the veracity and relevance of this statement. It’s long past time for competition and it’s accomplices – gold stars, standardized testing and absurdist grading – to take a back seat to collaborative, constructivist, holistic learning.

“If education in the coming age is to be, not just a part of life, but the main purpose of life, then education’s purpose will, at last, be viewed as central. What, then, is the purpose, the goal of education? A large part of the answer may well be what men (sic) of this civilization have longest feared and most desired: the achievement of moments of ecstasy, ananda, the ultimate delight.”

Why, that could’ve come right out of the mouth of my favourite new-age psycho-mechanic Deepak Chopra! And I totally agree.

Here’s where George had his only significant hiccup, IMO:

“I am convinced that U.S. education is nearing a time of dramatic change.”

Yikes! Well, George, this didn’t come to pass as you predicted, but it hasn’t been for a lack of effort on the part of a legion of alternative education champions like John Holt, Pat Montgomery, John Gatto and my colleague and mentor Brent Cameron. Fear and power-mongering, for the most part, has been at work by vested interests to smother education as an ecstatic activity. But I can assure you that many thousands of educators, parents, kids and even a few bureaucrats remain committed to this goal.

My conclusion? You were just a little ahead of your time.

Thanks for brightening my holiday George, and re-stating what remains so important to remember. Education is important, and it has almost nothing to do with what most people think it does.

I recommend the book most heartily, and you’ll have most luck finding it in a used-book store, is my bet. That’s where I got mine.

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