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Education, the cogency of an Aristotelian credo




Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself -John Dewey.

If there is a man who has trodden the lawns of the earth and who is a living proof to the Latin maxim – scientia potestas est (i.e. knowledge is power), it is Malik El-Shabazz, otherwise known as Malcolm X. Malcolm X, after he finished from eighth grade, went into a life of crime and addiction. He wined and dined with the lowliest of the society. There was no vulgarity or curse word which escaped the few pages of his vocabulary; and as a matter of fact, he earned huge respect from the ghetto. However, when he got into prison, he became reintroduced to books. This new and deep-seated love changed his life completely, so much so that several years later, he wrote the following in his autobiography:

Mr. Muhammad, to whom I was writing daily, had no idea of what a new world had opened up to me through my efforts to document his teachings in books … I have often reflected upon the new vistas that reading opened to me. I knew right there in prison that reading had changed forever the course of my life. As I see it today, the ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive. I certainly wasn’t seeking any degree, the way a college confers a status symbol upon its students. My homemade education gave me, with every additional book that I read, a little bit more sensitivity to the deafness, dumbness and blindness that was afflicting the black race in America.

And so Malcolm affirms that he became mentally alive through self-education. Through education, he was able to redirect the ship of the American state from the waves of injustice to the shores of fairness and from the dark tunnel of racism to the sunlit path of social equality. Through education, he was able to stand before world leaders and defend his convictions without anxiety or hesitation. With education, Malcolm transformed from a gangster to a grand star, and from ‘X the unknown’ to X the renowned. Thus, let no one dare underestimate the power of education. It is the only gate to a land of boundless possibilities, the only pathway to civilisation.

Merriam Webster defines education as the knowledge, skill, and understanding that you get from attending a school, college or university and ‘educated’ as giving evidence of training or practice. The Oxford Dictionary, however, puts it more appropriately by its recognition that education could be acquired through other means aside from formal ones such as the school. It states education to be the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary further defines life as the quality that distinguishes a vital and functional being from a dead body. In other words, it is the distinguishing factor between a ‘he’ and an ‘it’, between relevancy and redundancy. Life and death are one of the most antithetical concepts in existence. They are parallel lines representing two irreconcilable extremes. At one end is the ability to think, speak, move, love and make impact; the entitlement to rights under the law of the land and requirement to perform certain duties. Conversely, at the other end we have numbness, dumbness, uselessness and absolute oblivion. The million-dollar question thus is why did Aristotle place education on the same plane as life as reported in Diogenes Laertius’s Life of Eminent Philosophers? Why did he think so highly of education at a time when there were no such things as universities or even advanced progenies of technology? Is this assertion about education and life even true to life?

Aristotle of Stagira is no doubt one of the greatest thinkers in history. He learned from the best there was and tutored even greater minds. There is hardly any subject he did not contribute to – physics, biology, logic, poetry, music, rhetoric, linguistics and politics are just a few among his spheres of influence. This is why according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, ‘he was the first genuine scientist in history … (and) every scientist is in his debt.’ It cannot be gainsaid then that Aristotle is an authority. However, this is no ground to accredit all his sayings as flawless including that ‘the educated differ from the uneducated as much as the living from the dead.’ He himself would perhaps have pointed this out as argumentum ad verecundiam (i.e. the fallacy of appealing to authority). The validity of the statement should therefore be established from other viewpoints. Taking this into account, the arguments in this essay shall be drawn from the anthropological, social, political, biological and psychological lines of reasoning.

In 2005, the genome of the chimpanzee was sequenced for the first time and it was found to differ from its human counterpart by merely 1.23 per cent. Yet today, one does not need a telescope to discover which of the species is top of the ladder in the ecosystem. The reason for this is not far-fetched. It is simply that while humans are educable and consequently intelligent, chimpanzees are not. The level of impact we make on the environment and the level of advancement the human race reaches always correspond with the extent of our education and the fineness of our studies.

Nim Chimpsky, a chimpanzee, was raised by scientists as a human and taught sign language in the 1970s. However, despite many years of patience and dauntless optimism, the longest string of words Nim ever came up with was, ‘give orange me give eat orange me eat orange give me eat orange give me you’, a sentence totally devoid of syntax and lucidness. This experiment simply goes to show how far the ability to learn and understand can yank a race. It also shows that the thin line between humans and animals can easily be blurred as is seen in cases of intellectual disabilities or memory disorders which deny a person the ability to get educated. It is the realisation of this which I believe led John Quincy Adams to declare that, education makes a greater difference between man and man than nature has made between man and brute.

Furthermore, the facts speak for themselves when we consider the huge impact education has in the lives of the members of a given society. Consistently, those who have been hammered into shape by the refining processes of the academe are observed to be more well-to-do than others regardless of their initial background. Uneducated individuals are not only seen as the dregs of the society, they have also been shown to be less wealthy, less happy or satisfied with their lives and in fact more likely to divorce. It is because of this that former Louisiana Governor, Kathleen Blanco, observed thus, ‘every educated person is not rich, but almost every educated person has a job and a way out of poverty. So education is a fundamental solution to poverty.’

In a report released by the United States Bureau of Labour Statistics in 2012, it is shown that while the unemployment rate of workers without high school education is 12.6%, that of workers with a college degree or higher is a meagre 4.2%. A classic way of illustrating education would thus be as Maimonides put it when he said; ‘give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed for a lifetime.’

But away from the figures and studies which are amenable to distortion, we have numerous individuals who have manifested time and over the Midas touch inherent in education. Abraham Lincoln, a self-educated man, is one of such individuals. Abraham Lincoln, who was ranked in 2015 as the best president of the United States, had a very humble background. His father was an uneducated farmer while his mother, who believed strongly in the importance of education, died when he was just nine. He was not, at the outset, a likely candidate for the Presidency of the United States but with his passion for learning and eternal love for books, he became not just an excellent writer, a respected orator but the most-esteemed President of the world’s greatest superpower. Other quintessential examples include Ben Carson, Charles Dickens, Professor Pius Adesanmi, Adegoke Adelabu and of course, as evidenced earlier, Malcolm X. Indeed, Harry S. Truman captured it perfectly when he affirmed, ‘Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.’

In addition, just as the statement by Aristotle is true from one person to another, it is as well spot-on on a global scale. This is to the effect that countries with the highest literacy rates often perform excellently according to other positive indices. For instance, 15 out of the 20 countries with the best education systems in the world are equally among the 20 countries ranked highest on the 2014 Human Development Index. Eight out of these same countries are among the top 20 nations in the world with the highest Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It follows then that education is an indispensable tool not only for human development but also socio-economic advancement.

Aside from the above, studies have also proved that reading, especially literary fiction, helps to improve empathy and compassion. This was established particularly through a series of five experiments conducted in 2013 by Psychologists David Comer and Emanuele Castano at the New School for Social Research in New York. They deduced from the study that reading literary fiction enhances the ability to detect and understand other people’s emotions. Hence, education not only guarantees mental agility, it also ensures that a person’s emotion is not dead to his surroundings.

Moreover, the educated literally differ from the uneducated as much as the living from the dead because education is very crucial to life itself. It contributes to an increase in life expectancy. A person who is not educated is therefore likely to die sooner and even cause the death of others. To corroborate this fact, a 2012 research project by the Chilean Maternal Mortality Research Initiative (CMMRI) concluded that during a 50-year study period, the maternal mortality rate in Chile decreased by 93.8 per cent between 1957 and 2007 as a result of increasing maternal education.

From the foregoing, we are led only to one logical conclusion. And this is that there is wisdom and irrefutable truth in the figurative Aristotelian submission that the educated differ from the uneducated as much as the living from the dead. It is therefore a most wise decision for every individual, society and government to seek education with utmost priority. It is predicated on this that the move of the current administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari in giving the Ministry of Education the largest chunk from the 2016 budget is a move which reflects an understanding of this fact as advocated by Aristotle.

Education makes all the difference, especially if duly applied. Indeed, Africa has today recoiled into the backseat of redundancy rather than taking her place in the roundtable of relevancy because of this singular fact. It is a shame that even Africans confidently testify that if you want to hide something from a Black man, the best place to place it is inside a book. This is really shameful! Marcus Tulius Cicero once said, ‘A room without books is like a body without a soul’. He, however, forgot to add that a mind without education is also as good as dead. A mind without knowledge is a danger to itself and a waste of cranial capacity. And it is bounding upon us all to flee from such a mind.
Adebajo is a law student of the University of Ibadan. 08177006861,

. Debo Adesina’s column returns next week.

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