The mind is not a vessel that needs filling but wood that needs igniting

YOUTH IN FOCUS: I am looking for a private school for my son. As his grades have not been great and also as he has had some discipline issues in the past, my husband wants to put him in a school with a good academic record, but I think that is not the only criteria for choosing a school. What does lama think?  

Deki, Thimphu

From my experience, a good academic record is definitely not a criterion for choosing a school. As a parent, you need to seriously consider what is important in life. Is it merely having qualifications and social status? Basically, are your aspirations for your son limited to his future employment?

Personally, I think the Greek historian Plutarch’s advice should be the guiding principle for any education policy: “The mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting”.  Therefore, you should look for a school that strives to awaken the natural curiosity of its students and aims to inspire them to be good human beings, not one that merely stuffs their heads with facts and figures in order to get a job and rise up the social ladder.

In reality, a so-called good job offers no guarantee of a meaningful and content life, and obsessing over social status can really mess up the mind. Personally, I think it should come with a warning like those on cigarette packets: “Clinging to social status can seriously damage your health”. HAHA. OK, I may be exaggerating, but think of all the stress and anxiety, not to mention neurosis, that comes from constantly trying to live up to others’ expectations and maintaining a social status.

I guess that it is too much to expect a modern-day school to place music, art, photography and sport etc on an equal footing with academic subjects but you should choose a school that at least aspires to create open-minded, creative and disciplined individuals with human values, and not one that is focused on turning out identikit graduates suited only for the job market.

Basically, I think you really need to talk to the principal of any prospective school and try to get some ideas of their priorities.  Perhaps these points can serve as a check list: Do you feel that they understand the importance of an all-round education? Are their policies aimed at developing good human beings or mainly focused on exam results? If your son has discipline issues, do you believe that they will do their best to help him or will they just focus on the ‘good’ students and let him drop out? Good luck. I hope you find a school that can help your son become a confident, caring and well-adjusted adult.

Shenphen Zangpo was born in Swansea, UK, but spent more than 28 years practicing and studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, he works with the youth and substance abusers in Bhutan, teaching meditation and organising drug outreach programmes.


Email to thinleyzangmo24@gmail.com for any queries

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