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Education and friendship

The idea of friendship seems so everyday, so normal and quite simple. It even seems to require no explanation or definition. Because it just is, existing under its own power and strength.

A philosophy magazine carried an article recently, titled “The value of friendship for education”. It states that education grounded in friendship nurtures and sustains a more caring, mutually supportive intellectual community. It notes further that education is concerned with personal development, integrity and utilizing different fields of knowledge for human fulfillment.

I agree with the sentiments shared here. They represent a modern approach regarding the connection between education and friendship, and show how thinking creatively can result in such novel conclusions. Education as friendship humanizes relationships and fosters compassionate behavior based on virtue ethics. It produces sensitive communities with a desire to do good.

The article further notes that while many students find education worth the investment, just as many find college classrooms uninteresting, and argues that on many campuses there are high levels of student depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse and sexual assaults. Even professors are dissatisfied with their work and lack enthusiasm, and the fact that job security is tenuous, particularly for non-tenured staff, has led to unhappiness, lack of motivation and negative attitudes in the classroom.

I think that the above represents an emotional intelligence deficit, linked to an absence of friendship, which is integral to the educational process. Friendship is based on an ethic of mutual responsibility, and education as the essence of friendship heals and manages psychological issues and destructive behaviors. It empathizes with others, finds solutions to issues and provides comfort, which restores individuals to psychic fitness. Emotional intelligence as an aspect of education is the ability to manage personal issues, so we are not overwhelmed by them.

The magazine continues by stating that lecturers have more responsibilities with less support, which has created a downhearted group of educational laborers. What education needs, then, it says, is a different approach that cultivates better relationships, improved environments for learning and teaching, and to develop better conditions for personal and social growth. It is felt that an education which is grounded in friendship is one strategy that could shift learners from a monetary economy, towards focusing on the talents and potential of individuals.

To me, shifting education from monetary and business considerations to stressing the talents of individuals results in an education that is more authentic, and not market driven. It means the spiritual and interpersonal aspects of human relationships get prominence. Students can then become more creative, and artistic, because stress is placed on their internal capacities, and less on the imposed requirements of industry and commerce. The softer skills of kindness and understanding then come to the forefront. These are essential to fostering friendships, regard and respect for others. This is the basis of a common set of values, which enable positive cooperation to take place.

The article then observes that taking friendship seriously in the education context means moving beyond existing ideas of education focused on employment, being highly rational, and rote learning. Rather, friendship directs attention to relationships in education which are at the center of the learning environment. This stresses more open relationships which are mutually supportive, nurturing the best in each person. It moves away from power plays and focuses on everyone’s gifts, mutual betterment and relations of equality.

I share these views on friendship as an educational aim. Education as we practice it divides students into winners and losers, creates a sense of failure among a large group of educational clients, and the educational endeavor is seen as a mere job with a salary, rather than transforming individuals to be their best selves. Education as friendship does the latter, restoring the humanity of the educator and student colleagues. In fostering supportive, nurturing relationships, education as friendship promotes social unity.

Education as friendship also encourages students to have the courage to think imaginatively, builds an environment of trust, creates values that foster a climate where we come to the aid of each other, and engenders helpfulness and respect for each other. With friendship each person’s dignity and integrity is honored and valued, everyone has an important contribution to make and the environment of the institution is purposeful and oriented towards making students successful, and lecturers contented. It brings out what is good, and encourages new thinking, self-belief and a “can do” attitude.

An education with friendship as its objective is one where peace prevails, and there is an absence of antagonism, jealousy and competitiveness. This is because friendship with education at its base and center is the vaccine against bigotry, prejudice and all the negatives that currently plague society.

• Oliver Mills is a former lecturer in education at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. He holds an M.Ed degree from Dalhousie University in Canada, an MA from the University of London and a post-graduate diploma in HRM and training, University of Leicester. He is a past permanent secretary in education with the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.

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