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Educating Values for Life

Vision 4: Education is generally accessible and reaches high levels. Teachers are well paid. Classes are not too big, and personal and social development go side by side.

How to educate ourselves and our children for living in times of turbulence? How to educate starting from the ideas of what a human being is actually is? Education shouldn’t just transfer knowledge, it should educate values.

What values do we need? The answer really is a magnificent elephant (in the room). Most kids just know it. You know it. Hold on for the magic answer: Compassion. Love. (Self) Respect. Peace. Sharing. Beauty. Perhaps even: biosphere consciousness.[1] Most of these are about empathic connectedness.


If our old, prevalent values (like economic growth) lead us to destroy our biosphere, where to start changing? With education, of course. Starting with ourselves, but most hope lies with our children, because we generally love them and they hopefully will outlive us all.

Ken Robinson made one of the most profound arguments for changing education.

In a more recent talk, Robinson quotes W.B. Yeats.

HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

“And every day, everywhere, our children spread their dreams beneath our feet. And we should tread softly,” Robinson ends. It brought tears to my eyes. His ideas are really utterly brilliant. In his book The Element,[2] he makes the case why human organisations are more like organisms than like mechanisms. Education should let children grow and flourish in stead of being prepared just for a life as university professors.

Ken Robinson shows both where it went wrong and where education should be heading.

Tex Gunning is member of the board of Akzo Nobel, a multinational with about 15 billion Euro turnover. He argues his company needs more good people who know the art of living because they act from the inside, rather than just being smart.[3] Aesthetics, empathy, storytelling and symphony (the coherence of things) are just as important as facts.

Education should be preparing children for life in a broad sense, rather than just teaching for efficiency. Schools shouldn’t only transfer knowledge, they should raise children to become valuable members of society. Eduction should be value-driven. What does this mean? Kids should be inspired to get to know themselves, live consciously, explore, practice social skills and live in coexistence with nature and others (what Rifkin would call biosphere consciousness), all this in order to be able to add value to society. Happiness is experienced in reciprocity, Gunning stresses.[4]

How do we do this? By creating different schools, starting with educating ourselves on how to do that. The good news: value based schools don’t have to be invented; there are great examples like the Dutch primary school wittering.nl, or the educational ideas of Brahma Kumaris. A sound starting point is the Association for Living Values Education International (“ALIVE”), a worldwide community of values educators. Part of our children will engage in professions that today do not even exist. These ideas might indeed, as Ken Robinson, already be revolutionizing education.

Education should start from the question: which values do we want to teach our kids? We need to cultivate the values, empathy, talent and creativity they were born with. Kids should be taught systems thinking, so they will appreciate that everything is interconnected. They idea of interconnection fosters responsibility.

Is education just transfer of knowledge? Education should prepare children for life in its broadest sense. Why is education so important? Education should raise children to lead worthy and meaningful lives. It should foster self confidence and universal values. It should show interdependency of life so they want to live in co-existence with others. Happiness is experienced in reciprocity with others.

  1. [1]The recognition that all living beings are an inseparable part of a global ecosystem.
  2. [2]Robinson, 2009: 252
  3. [3]See for example this lecture (in Dutch).
  4. [4]A point which is endorsed by an overwhelming body of research; See Lyubomirsky (2007).