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Experience has taught us that knowledge or intelligence do not guarantee wisdom. We all know of intelligent and knowledgeable people who do incredibly foolish things. Nor do we necessarily become wiser as we age. The adage, ‘There’s no fool like an old fool’ was true even before our generation developed its Peter Pan Complex. We also know that wisdom is not a subject that can be taught in a textbook, nor a set of rules or facts to be communicated by the classroom teacher.
Yet, what could be more important to us as educators than to mold students who use the knowledge and skills we have taught them in a wise fashion? Providing information and honing skills that will be utilized in unwise or immoral ways almost makes us an accessory to the crime. What can teachers do to enhance teaching wisdom – to teach what we will call the WQ, the Wisdom Quotient, of our students?
As always, defining the source of the problem is the first step to finding the solution.
Michael McKinney, writing in Foundations Magazine, sums up the issue:
Time and information have become our enemies. Without the time to think about the onslaught of information that is paraded before us each day, we have become, by and large, what social psychologists call cognitive misers, preferring emotional reactions and one-dimensional opinions to considered examination. While these often necessary mental shortcuts can help us to reduce our complex world into something more manageable, they can create enormous errors in thought and behavior. These errors can have monumental consequences not only in our own lives but in the collective lives of organizations, communities and nations.
The solution is thus best captured in an insightful line I once heard: Wisdom is found in the space between stimulus and response. Teaching wisdom to children – teaching them to think deeply before they act – is teaching wisdom. (My daughter jokes that “Google before you Tweet is the new think before you act”. Sad but true.) The fact that we live in the ‘Blink Age’ where speed has replaced depth is the challenge of our times. However, the ability to think — and the understanding of the importance of thinking — is something that we can teach. We can build our children’s abilities to reason and to anticipate both positive and negative consequences. We can create moral dilemmas, ask students to work through the various possible scenarios, and then debate the wisest course of action. We can use history to illustrate the moral struggles of the wise that champion the traits of integrity, patience and reflection. If we do this often enough we will provide functional models for both wise thought and wise action.
Once students are convinced of the need to act wisely and then shown how one goes about using his or her powers of rational thought to decide wisely, wisdom will follow. The positive impact this will have on their lives, and on their future contributions to a moral society, is the reason we all entered the field of education in the first place.