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The Role of Education for Dialogue
Jul 1, 2005

“No one yet realized the wealth of sympathy, the kindness and generosity hidden in the soul of a child. The effort of every true education should be to unlock that treasure” - Emma Goldman

For centuries there has been much isolation (of various sorts) and years of conflict that have placed a wall between peoples, cultures, countries, and religions; this is because some people have been taught to hate each other. Poverty, religious fanaticism, and war have taught people all over the world to hate one another.

Despite the increased opportunities for dialogue today, the community of nations is also faced with serious economic, social, and cultural difficulties; the inequality between nations is growing, and many conflicts and serious tensions threaten peace and security. Just by looking at recent events, we can see that the world has witnessed a number of brutal wars and conflicts in the twentieth century alone. Bosnia is one of the examples of wars where ethnic cleansing and numerous ethnic and ideological conflicts have left a deep traumatic scar on the collective memories of the nations in the region. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is another conflict that is just as painful.

The crises in Kashmir, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Karabag, and many other parts of the world can be added to this painful list. The purpose of this article is to find some possible answers to the following questions: Why do people not solve their problems through dialogue? What prevents them from doing this? Or in other words, who or what is to blame?

My immediate answer to all these questions is just one word: education. But the meaning of that word is not as simple as it seems. It can be defined in different ways, such as the following: Education is an organizational substructure that prepares individuals in order that they will eventually become useful for:

• The ongoing operation of their current social structure;

• The preservation and continuation of such a social structure in following generations. Or;

Education is a substructure that prepares new generations so they can eventually improve on current organizational structures (into which they have been thrown) by:

• Introducing mechanisms to smoothly implement improvements;

• Sustaining those mechanisms with improvements;

• Trying to preserve the stability of the social structure.

Once the question becomes “what is the purpose of education?” it becomes more complex: 

“The only purpose of education is to teach a student how to live his life-by developing his mind and equipping him to deal with reality. The training he needs is theoretical, i.e., conceptual. He has to be taught to think, to understand, to integrate, to prove. He has to be taught the essentials of the knowledge discovered in the past, and he has to be equipped to acquire further knowledge by his own effort.” - Ayn Rand

“The central task of education is to implant a will and facility for learning; it should produce not learned, but learning people. The truly human society is a learning society, where grandparents, parents, and children are students together.” - Eric Hoffer

“The central job of schools is to maximize the capacity of each student.” - Carol Ann Tomlinson

“The one real object of education is to leave a man in the condition of continually asking questions.” - Bishop Creighton

“The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think-rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with the thoughts of other men.” - Bill Beattie

As understood from the above quotations, it is not easy to find a single definition of what education is. Therefore, education has a twofold role to play in the questions asked above concerning “Education for dialogue” or “Education for hate.” In fact, the duality of the role of education emanates from the people, the educators, who use it for whatever their purpose is. This purpose can vary, being political, national, religious, antireligious, etc.... Thus, we arrive at the issue of preparing people as “good educators.”

All in all, education is the key to solving the greatest dilemmas of humanity. Investment in human resources represents the best hope for achieving growth in several areas, such as economic, social, and cultural, without forsaking the goals of the alleviation of poverty, social cohesion, and environmental sustainability. Achieving global sustainability will depend upon the contributions of young generations with the knowledge, training, and social commitment needed to create real change.

In the new millennium almost every region of the world will face tremendous challenges. The insistent pressures of globalization imply a new world order in which the only constant will be change. It seems that education will be one of the essential foundations of both a culture of peace and dialogue among civilizations. Education advocates the respect of universal values common to all civilizations (solidarity, tolerance, recognition of human rights, fundamental freedom for all, etc.). Education is also ideally suited to the transmission of national and universal cultural values and should foster the assimilation of scientific and technological knowledge without detriment being made to the capacities and values of the people.