WE WANT OUR CHILDREN to get an education, so we send them off to school—kindergarten through twelfth grade and then on through college. We want them to acquire all the information they need to become successful adults. We also expect our schools to properly enculturate our children, turning them into upstanding citizens and fine human beings who will inter-act acceptably with other educated adults.
But what is actually happening in the schools today? I was astonished recently to come across a comparison of the top seven disciplinary problems confronting schools in 1940 and those confronting schools today, compiled by the California Federation of Police and the California Department of Education.
Top Disciplinary Problems in 1940
2. Chewing gum
3. Making noise
4. Running in the halls
5. Getting out of line
6. Wearing improper clothing
7. Not putting paper in the wastebasket
Top Disciplinary Problems Today
1. Drug abuse
2. Alcohol abuse
Shocking, isn't it? Yet when we understand that the primary purpose of traditional education is to socialize children, it's not so surprising. In school, children learn and practice the value system of the dominant local culture. The top problems in schools today, therefore, undoubtedly reflect the problems of the dominant local culture.
How have things run amuck? According to the Bhagavad-gita, the problem is that people falsely conceive of the body as the self. Because of this misconception, they try their best to manipulate the material energy to get what they consider to be the most out of life. For persons in bodily consciousness, this means sensual and mental pleasures. These may appear dazzling and refined when one comes into the realm of M.A.'s and Ph.D.'s, but they are based on a misconception nonetheless. And, as in a mathematical equation, when the first assumption is wrong, everything that follows will also be wrong.
So what is real education? What is real knowledge? And how do we help our children obtain these things? In Vedic times children were given the skills they needed for their occupation. But most importantly, their teachers instilled in them admirable qualities like truthfulness, piety, and self-control. Having these qualities, people naturally performed their duties, and society was peaceful. The atmosphere was thus suitable for spiritual practices, allowing everyone the opportunity to progress toward the real goal of life—liberation from repeated birth and death in the material world.
This, then, is what is missing today—understanding the goal of human life. The Vedas tell us that the human body is awarded to the living entity only rarely, and that it is a fit boat for crossing over the ocean of nescience. Unless we can deliver our dependents from the cycle of birth and death, the Srimad-Bhagavatam says, we should not become parents. We have to understand what a rare opportunity our children have to get out of this ocean of suffering once and for all. Our real obligation is to help our children achieve liberation. Education that leads them to this end is real education.
Navina Krsna Dasa (Naveen Khurana) was initiated by Srila Prabhupada in 1975. Originally from New Delhi, he holds an M.S. and an M.B.A. from the University of Illinois. Write to him c/o BTG.