Man is a learning being. This is the existential image of man ac-cording to the ancient Greek philosophy. A man is a man as long as he is learning, and he stops being a man when his vital powers of learning are extinguished. In manifesting the mystery of man’s crea-tion in God’s image, Christian theology affirms that man continues to think and learn in the life eternal. Human life in essence is an unending journey of learning. Generalizing these spiritual-philosophical perceptions of human nature, we may assert that education is the basis and qualitative indicator of national and societal life. Indeed the nations establish themselves and develop through education and education is the only true way of manifesting one’s identity and realizing national potential. It secures the transmission of reason and values between generations and provides an opportunity for a gainful and meaningful life, uniting people with a vision of a common future.
Learning is our common concern. All of us are called to live meaningful lives and to shape the new generation. In this respect education is the principal mission of society and as such is sacred and holy. The vitality and development of each nation is directly depen-dent on the understanding of that mission and its ability to marshal its best resource to serve this sacred cause. And sacredness is not only in the high esteem with which it is valued, but also in its great power and inspiration for bringing people together.
Sacred things are not passive factors nor are they dead values. They demand moral determination and reverent attitude. Conscious-ness and consequently education are a path to self-purification. Christ teaches thus: “And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” This means that we need not only to liberate ourselves from certain stereotypes and self-deception, but we must also have the courage to clean this sacred sphere. Not all the nations are able to provide effective education. For example, one fallacy is believing that because our ancestors were wise we have historic insurance against foolishness, mediocrity, and regression. Or, when we think that ours is superior and without compare, but do not take the bigger picture into account or even bother to consider how we fit into the bigger picture. Or, when we have a sense of entitlement (say, with respect to the state) and we have no obligations with respect to education.
Learning is a virtue. The society should learn from its past and should have the honesty and vision to value it and reevaluate it as well. An appreciation of the past facilitates the possibility of reading the future, ensuring the transmission of values and the maintenance of a national consensus. However, learning also presupposes being open to other cultures and adopt the best practices of mankind. We have hallowed the art of translation, naming our greatest cultural figures Holy Translators and made the Feast of the Holy Translators a celebration of our national identity. We have accepted that translation is an art of interpretation of heavenly truths and a wisdom of expressing the heavenly in earthly form. The translator is an ambassador-interpreter of God in the human reality. However, translation as a cultural phenomenon is the ability of creatively adopting the universal, of seeing yourself in the big picture, and making your own heritage. This is the way of love, openness and cooperation, which is a unique feature of our national identity.
There have always been talkers and doers, and the talkers are more numerous while the doers are few, and those who master both talking and doing are rare. Each society must gather those rare and precious people, since they are the resource that shapes the future. Those who engage in education first and foremost must have educa-tional attainments, high achievements and an exemplary life path. Second, they should have a track record of creating quality and the ability of rallying people around education. Third, they should be able to implement pan-national projects and to ensure the highest international standards.
In circumstances dominated by reproduction of stereotypes and educational inertia it is very difficult to stop and consider fundamen-tal questions. But it is necessary to do so. For example, what are we teaching our children? To what extent does it reflect our national culture? To what extent does it ensure the global competitiveness of future generations? The answers to these questions presuppose that our primary task is to assure that our educational programs are true to our heritage, while equivalent in qualitative criteria to the most progressive and modern programs in the world. Of course there is the easier way: to simply take what is ready made and tested and implement it. However, experience has shown that copying is not the best route, because education is a sphere fraught with values and cultural differences. The founders of our national education system did not do this many centuries ago and we should not do this now. Instead, we should create our own, setting aside for a moment the consumer mentality, to be original and creative. However difficult this may be, this is how it needs to be done to be effective.
Research on educational achievement worldwide points to one, time-tested truth: The better the teachers, the better the education system. Those nations which have managed to create a community of top teachers and the consistent replication of high quality come out ahead. Educational excellence requires a national consensus. This kind of perfectionism is justified in all respects. Inefficiency, luke-warm attitude and indifference are incompatible with education. Education constantly renews the highest national aspirations. Teach-ers are standard-bearers of this great mission. Therefore we are speaking not about a mere profession and job, but about a mission, whose objective is to light the torch of learning in the hearts of people. We have to set high standards, not standards that we can im-mediately achieve, but goals that will make us better as we strive for them.
For centuries with inner wisdom and with courage, in order to build the future, even in the most difficult times, we managed to allot a portion of our God-given talent to the next generation. Our fathers recognized that the only guarantee for the future is to serve education and to transmit the best to the next generation. All of our greatest figures from Sts. Mesrop and Sahak to Komitas and Adjarian have been teachers. This is the secret of Armenian survival. The teacher was the embodiment of the society’s conscience, moral character, and wisdom. Today in the era of education when all the nations exert extraordinary efforts to reconceive education, we too are compelled to redefine our attitude toward the teaching profession. We need intensive dialogue, work and investment, and most importantly, we need faith and patience to be able to direct our best human resources to education, to prepare a generation of highly qualified teachers inspired with national spirit and motived by a sense of the mission. Only in this way can we be confident that what we hold most precious in life, our children, are in safe hands and that we are providing them with full opportunity for their self-actualization in today’s extremely competitive world.
- Fr. Mesrop Aramian