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Education: A dessert or desert?

By Tim Middleton

The CEO was checking into the hotel where he was staying for an important conference and was reading the correspondence that his personal assistant  had had with the hotel regarding the booking. To his surprise, he noted that in response to the question asked of guests, “Are there any dietary requirements?” the PA had indicated, on behalf of her boss, “He loves pudding.” That boss no doubt was the same one who, as a child, was asked by a waiter, when the child was indicating he wanted numerous puddings to be added to his plate from those on offer, “Are you going to eat it or climb it?” The child may even have been the one who, on another occasion, after again asking for numerous puddings to be added to his plate and then was asked if he wanted cream on top, replied, “No, thanks, I’m trying to lose weight.”

The glorious fact for people such as the one mentioned above, though, is that, despite numerous warnings regarding the danger to our health, there are indeed many great benefits to eating desserts, many of them scientifically supported. A dessert rounds off a meal in a perfect way. They improve the mood of the recipient and leave a great taste in the mouth. They stimulate the feeling of pleasure and make the eater feel better, calmer and happier. They also do improve weight control, are usually packed with nutrients, provide in some cases more much-needed fruit into the diet while also lowering blood pressure.

Dessert is good; however, the same cannot so easily be said of desert. A desert is naturally dry, arid, bleak, dull, bland, barren, bare; its impact is generally one of exhaustion, of dryness. For the most part it is uninhabitable while it can change regularly, causing travellers to lose their way. The heat causes mirages which make people have a distorted view of all that is around them.

As in a previous article we considered how introspection should serve as the starter in the meal of education so dessert should be added to the educational menu for the full benefits to be revealed. The education that we provide our children must leave a great taste in the mouth of pupils, must make the recipient feel better, calmer and happier. The education must help us control our waiting. All that is a beneficial added dimension to the education we offer. We cannot afford to provide lead our pupils through a desert, where they will most likely lose their way.

In short, the difference between “dessert” and “desert” is one small “s”, though the meaning is vastly different; in a similar way, the difference between education that is tasty, pleasant and leaving the pupil feeling much better about herself and education that is dry, barren and distorted comes down to one word beginning with that missing letter “s” — stimulation. The effect of education with or without stimulation is vastly different.

When we speak of stimulation, we refer to “the action of arousing interest, enthusiasm, or excitement” which in turn and time will lead to “increased functional activity”. Stimulation will be animated, motivating and invigorating; it will cause things to happen and develop. So education must stimulate questions, thoughts, feelings and ultimately actions. It will generate and even regenerate renewed energy and enthusiasm which in turn will lead to further progress. It will arouse emotions in us that will trigger further thought, be it in relation to justice, kindness or humility but it will equally assist pupils to know how to handle such emotions and direct them positively.

“Dietary requirements” are usually identified as those things which we must avoid, for whatever reason, rather than those things that we would like. The boss mentioned at the start of this article did not get any special puddings or indeed more puddings, simply because it was stated he loved pudding. Our only aim in the desert is to survive; our real motive with dessert is to thrive. That is what education must achieve.

Desserts and deserts can, it is true, both be the death of us yet it is equally true that desserts can bring us great benefit. We must make education more of a dessert than a desert, preferably with cream and a cherry on top. It simply must be stimulating, touching all our senses (including common sense) and bringing fresh, positive, exciting sensations. Then we can have our dessert and climb it.

  • Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS. 
  • email: ceo@atschisz.co.zw
  • website: www.atschisz

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