“Man lives in his ordinary life as a disintegrated being but capable of
reaching a higher state. He can rediscover his integrity through a
special kind of education impossible to find in the ordinary paths of life.””
What are the Universities for ?
By Stefano D’Anna
The universities of the future will do what today’s universities do not do: teach youth of self-discovery, self-knowledge, the Art of Dreaming, to aim higher, to elevate their being, and to become masters of their own lives.
There is nothingmore important.
I was in London at the Times-sponsored conference organized by Goodenough College and the Institute of Ideas, where the highest calibre of specialists from political, financial, and academic communities around the world, after three days of passionate debate, tried to give a response to one of the most crucial questions of our time: what are universities for?
We are so accustomed to talking about them – to sending our children there, to working, studying and teaching there, that we take for granted the answer to this thorny question which is at the core of the academic mission, and upon which perhaps hangs the future of our civilization. So far, writers, philosophers, educators, politicians and deans have not found clarity on this theme, but on one thing they can all agree: on the deplorable state to which the university education system and, in general, western higher-level education, has reduced itself. The charge is heavy: schools are provincial and too theoretic, with campuses reduced to mental gyms, and too frequently, to nothing other than downright squalid exam houses.
According to the results of the Times conference, universities take the precious live potential of young minds and transform them, the students, into “job fillers”- people who simply fill a role, and people with an employee-mentality, worried about nothing more than finding a job and surviving.
The accusation is not new. Universities, born to be forgers of men with integrity and schools for individuals – on whom the survival of every civilization depends, are reduced to schools of dependence – factories that produce an employee species of frightened and unprepared men and women. They are unprepared not only because they have no idea of what happens in the real world, but above all, because they do not know who they are. Just a few years ago we heard from the other side of the Atlantic – in Boston – alarms being sounded after a government inquiry concerning the quality of instruction at Harvard University. The summation is as heavy as lead: “We entrust our young people to Harvard and get back ‘men with hearts of stone’.” The bitter conclusion is that, despite scientific and material progress, millennia later, we are far behind with respect to Plato’s “dream” and his marvellous idea of the Academy.
University means “Towards One”.
That school model, those higher education institutes that much later in medieval times would be called universities, were schools of thought developed around a master, presuming a closeness with his disciples and taking place in enchanting locations chosen for the magic of their history, and positioned near water sources or rivers.
Not by chance, the Platonic Academies were located near the Cefiso. The High School, east of the campus, was nestled between the waters of the Eridano and the Cinosarge. To the south of the city, the place where the cynic Antistene taught, was near the Ilisso. Water, besides being a symbol of life and conscience, was used for ablution. In these schools, the culture of the body and the spirit were two profiles of the same reality – indivisible. Regrettably, not only Plato’s Dream was lost in the sands of time, but even its etymon – the meaning built into the very root of its name. University – uni-versus – means “towards one” – towards oneness. A university is to be a school of integrity.
Once the roots were cut from the ideal Greek model, the values which inspired their birth also dried up, and the university, became its own opposite, without even changing its name. Modern campuses, reduced to institutions without a soul, compare to real universities as does the Inquisition to primitive Christianity. Students and families accept all of this with calm desperation.
How absurd to spend a quarter of our lives at school and university and let our entire time slip away without knowing anything about the ‘Being’ – not even suspecting the power that our states of mind and emotions have in determining the events and circumstances of our lives.
Schooling can be called ‘first education’ – the one that we all receive, and it does not provide us with any sense of the distinction between what is external and what is internal, nor does it prepare us to manage our thoughts, or to be aware of our emotions. Our existence runs along two parallel tracks: ‘events’ which are the sequence of facts and circumstances that come towards us in time, and ‘states’ which are the impulses of our spirit, moods and emotions, and which are timeless – arising within us mostly unperceived and even unconscious. A man’s personal history is therefore made up of outer events, but more so, of inner circumstances, emotions and thoughts. Without any deliberate intention, ordinary culture has relegated emotions, feelings and thoughts to the ephemeral and intangible sphere of myths, fables and dreams, considering them to be separate phenomena and extremely far from what is commonly called ‘reality’.
A University Program with a Soul.
The Conference conducted in London was valorous enough to declare “the art of self-discovery” as the central element in the education of the future, but it was useless to look through its conclusions for an answer to the question, “How?” Exactly how could actual universities ever transform themselves into Socratic schools? Which divine finger will inscribe on the eardrums of modern campuses the eternal Delphic motto: Know Thyself? With which programs, methods and docents will this take place?
In the twilight of the western academic panorama, there is only one light that can orient the lone wayfarer. A student who searches, like Diogene searched for the individual, would quest after a University Program with a soul – where the formation of the person is at the centre of every activity, and where self-knowledge is the top priority. In such a program, the main subject is the “Art of Dreaming” – the capacity to develop a sense of greatness, to nurture and bear the responsibility of impossible dreams, to transform them into the possible, and then, at last, into something inevitable.
There is a program, FLW-Future Leaders for the World, exclusively designed for preparing a new generation of visionary leaders, which started in Turkey and then rapidly spread to other countries, from Italy to Brazil. Its founding principle begins with remembering the forgotten meaning of the word “education”, whose Latin root “ex-duco” literally means ‘lead out’.
The pedagogy of the program is not geared to transfer a ready-made set of convictions and beliefs, nor to give the students any bookish knowledge, imposed from the outside and equal for all. It takes place in Florence, where genius and excellence created the Italian Renaissance.
In this spirit, the FLW Leadership Program has the mission to foster higher ideas and to teach its students how to overcome inner limits, and to cultivate independent thinking and a true passion for freedom and greatness. Art, music, theatre, economics of ideas, philosophy and the search for truth will be the subjects of this program to amplify the vision, and to bring to light the inner qualities, the ideas and the values of a visionary Leader.
The University has to propose a system of essential ideas
capable of interpreting the world,
revealing man’s true condition
and pointing the way to his possible evolution.
The individual revolution, announced in my latest book “A Dream for the World” has started, and I am confident that from a spark it will become a flame capable of setting the planet on fire and spreading to all schools and universities as the pedagogy for the education of the leaders of the future who the world desperately need.
I’ve dreamed of a revolution.
I’ve dreamed of a School which ‘remembers’
that the ‘dream’ is the most concrete thing there is.
I’ve dreamed of a new generation of leaders,
driven by Ethics and Integrity, capable of approaching their role
as a mission, as a sacred duty.
They will fix the world.