Icon Without Substance

Another Story: More than a year ago

One morning while jogging inside our school’s campus, and at the same time listening to an audio book by Stephen Covey, I came across a phrase that would perhaps be permanently engraved in my memory. Stephen was saying something about “ . . . getting the degree but not the education.”

That phrase reminded me of my teacher’s warning about icons without substance. I saw a profound parallel.

Sometimes I realize, we are getting off track.

Recalling part of history, we acknowledge that in the prehistoric time, when people lived by gathering foods, and by hunting animals, formal education was non-existent. Writing in paper was not yet invented. Boys learned from their fathers; girls from their mothers. As a result, a farmer’s son would become a farmer. A blacksmith’s son would soon become his father’s successor. If the mother was a tailor, so her daughter would be.

Education was passed on from generation to generation in an informal form of mentorship, and practical training, and not of classroom instructions type. Education then was more on “observations” and “imitations.”

Religious beliefs, cultures, social values, traditions, morality, and practical skills were the center of early education. These special skills are passed on to the younger generations through words of mouth and through constant association of students and masters.

That was the trend until the government took the initiative and started to gradually introduce a system of formal education. Religious groups took very active role (perhaps because there was no separation of church and state yet). Young people started to learn to read and write. They were called scribes. But the first scribes were the sons and daughters of the wealthy. And these “literate” individuals worked in close association with religious groups. The main purpose was to teach children with values, and profound understanding of goodness, truth, and justice—the foundation of the things we call now “soft skills.”

Most if not all first educational systems were centered in teaching values and other soft skills . . . skills that are mostly missing now in many schools.

In a previous post “Technology and Society,” I said that . . .

Many schools are excellent when it comes to academics but totally poor when it comes to humility and character. They are absolutely illiterate when it comes to bringing knowledge to their emotions.

Remember, education is also a tool. If it helps us improve our mental dimension and yet destroy our emotional and spiritual side, what good does it do?

It bothers me to think that educational systems now are more concerned with “academics” than with what we really need in life.

In The Leader in Me, Stephen Covey said,

“ . . . How often do I hear today’s business leaders grimacing about MBA or PhD they just hired who has ‘no clue’ how to work with people, how to make basic presentation, how to conduct themselves ethically, how to organize their time, or how to be creative — much less how to inspire creativity? How many times do I hear executives talk about how their company is poised to pursue a great new opportunity but cannot get out of the starting blocks because they are mired in ethical breaches or infighting between employees or subcontractors? How many times do I hear parents bemoaning the fact that their newly crowned high school graduate excelled on all the college entrance exam yet does not know how to take responsibility for their actions, to vocalize their thoughts, to treat people with respect, to analyze a decision, to empathize, to prioritize, to resolve conflicts maturely, or to plan?”

It is a saddening fact to realize that our modern society focuses too much on the shortcut icon, not realizing that the original folder has already been deleted. The very purpose of education when it was initially started by religious groups in early times—to teach children with values, and profound understanding of goodness, truth, and justice—is almost already forgotten, deleted, lost in the wide array of technical subjects.

I know a few people who have “gotten the degree but not the education,” people who have finished MBAs and PhDs but have no clue on how to work with other people maturely, who can’t make sound decisions, who don’t know how to genuinely listen to others, who can’t cooperate. They are like icons without substance. Their titles become meaningless.

2 thoughts on “Icon Without Substance

  1. I agree with you. I know people with masters, abroad stayings, etc. but they overall culture/education is really poor. I prefer great people instead of great curriculum.

    1. Hello nuresma, It’s a sad fact. I’m glad I still know a few who are not like icons without substance.

      And like you, I prefer great people than great curriculum. 🙂

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