From day one, our Masters (what we had to call our teachers) drummed it into our heads that we, pupils of Public Schools, represent the top 1% of the nation. Don’t mind the Brits. You know them now. Their own is always different. For some odd reason that I don’t have time to go into here, what they refer to as Public schools are actually Private schools. Their own free schools are called State schools or Comprehensives. Anyway, these Masters would repeatedly tell us we are the future leaders of the nation therefore our character must reflect such.
In everything that we do, we should always remember that if we contravene school rules, not only will we face the consequences but far more importantly, we would be letting ourselves down too. After all, we’re supposed to made of better stuff. To whom much is given much is expected; that kind of thing. When I look back at it now, I realise just how much those regular pep talks shaped me.
Constantly, our Masters would say to us Six Formers then (16 to 18 year olds), that if we wanted to be treated like adults, we must first behave like adults. And to give them credit, that was exactly how it played out. You know Oyinbo, they have less tendency to be condescending towards you just because of your age. They will treat you according to the way you behave. If you behave like a responsible adult, they will treat you as such. If you behave like a spoilt brat, they will treat you accordingly. If your arrogance gets the better of you, they will quite happily put you in your place.
No matter who you are. Reading reports in the newspapers of members of Parliament (their National Assembly) getting stopped by the police for breaking the speed limit, and being compelled to take a breathalyzer test to see if their alcohol consumption has exceeded the permitted limit to drive; and subsequently receiving a hefty fine or even suspension of their drivers licence is not an uncommon phenomenon. So, Oyinbo is by no means perfect as the fallibility inherent to all humanity will certainly rear it’s head whenever it can. The difference over there though is, there’s a consequence; no matter who you are.
As leaders, one is not just expected to uphold the law but one should expect to be held to a higher standard even when no one is watching. Definitely not a lower one which permits you to get away with anything and everything. However, this is only typical of a society where laws are sacrosanct; where the usefulness of laws are not limited to only times of witch hunt or when traffic officials and law enforcement agencies on the road need someone to sink their teeth into. Especially when Christmas is approaching! Fellow Lagosians, you know what I mean. Laws in most developed societies apply equally to everyone. None is made to feel less or bigger than the other.
Simply put, education ought to prepare one for service. This is what leadership at every level, starting from your home to your school, your workplace and ultimately in politics should be about.
As our Masters (teachers) back in my school days urged us to behave like adults so we can be treated as such, this could also be extended to, “behaving like a human being so you can be treated like one”. Of course, some may invert this though and say, “treat me like a human being so I’ll be better motivated to behave like one”. I think there’s merit in this too. I don’t see many sane human beings cherishing the idea of being treated like cannon fodder; courted when you need their votes or their support concerning your interest but expendable once that purpose has been served; saluted when you want them to “shake body” but a “bloody civilian” when they have nothing to drop.
Life is a journey, often perilous, which requires continuous education to guide us through. My late father, God bless his soul, told us he always thanked God whenever he learned something from his children. That’s when we were still children! Contrary to the Nigerian narrative, old men are not always right. This has often been used to preserve the status quo, where the young are kept out of decision making. Politics is a good case in point and how well is that going for us?
Over the centuries many different positions have been put forward as to the purpose of education. And many of them, though distinctly different are right. Some say it’s for self actualization – gaining knowledge that will help you to fulfill your potential. Others argue it’s to push the boundaries of knowledge to further develop our societies and the world.
Yet some assert it’s to help us find solutions to the world’s problems; several incurable diseases such as many forms of cancer and even the worrying climate warming issue desperately need answers. Do you not find it a little ironic though that we urgently pursue knowledge to solve the same problems our apparent knowledge created in the first place? Well, that’s just an aside but it’s food for thought. Still, some insist the whole purpose of education is to equip an individual with the ability to reason so he can make his own decisions.
I love the way Plato defined education. He described it as that which “makes a man eagerly pursue the ideal perfection of citizenship and teaches him how rightly to rule and how to obey. This is the only education which upon our view deserves the name; that other sort of training, which aims at the acquisition of wealth or bodily strength or mere cleverness, apart from intelligence and justice is mean and illiberal and is not worthy to be called education at all.” (Rusk 1965:30)
Thousands of years later, the American President, Theodore Roosevelt, in my opinion sealed this view when he famously said, “Educate the man in mind and not in morals and you educate a menace to society.”
If you were to ask me the one word which springs to my mind whenever I hear “education”? If you were to ask me what it was our Masters at school, unceasingly strived to instill in us through education? It’s non other than “character”. I’m one of those who strongly believes that the Nigerian system and we as a people place far too much emphasis on academics (as important as it is) and not enough on building up the total being, and the sorry state of our society quite clearly reflects that.
Changing the nation…one mind at a time
Dapo Akande, a Businessday weekly columnist is a University of Surrey (UK) graduate with a Masters in Professional Ethics. An alumnus of the Institute for National Transformation; with certification in Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence from Case Western Reserve College, USA and author of two books, The Last Flight and Shifting Anchors. Both books are used as course material in Babcock University’s Literature department. Dapo is a public speaker, a content creator and a highly sought after ghostwriter.