“Education is different from teaching.” states the M. Fethullah Gulen, and continues: “Most human beings can be teachers but the number of educators is severely limited.”. The difference between the two lies in that both teachers and educators impart information and teach skills, but the educator is one who has the ability to assist the students’ personalities to emerge, who fosters thought and reflection, who builds character and enables the student to interiorize qualities of self-discipline, tolerance, and a sense of mission. Fethullah Gulen describes those who simply teach in order to receive a salary, with no interest in the character formation of the students as “the blind leading the blind.”
Saying this, M. Fethullah Gulen has not let this vision remain rhetorical but instead worked hard to have it been realized globally as civic projects. By some estimates, several hundred educational institutions such as K-12 schools, universities and language schools have been established around the world by his inspirations. Notable examples of such schools include those in south east Turkey, Central Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and South East Asia. Regardless of their location, these schools became symbols of harmonious intercultural relationship, successful unification of belief and reason and dedication to the service of humanity. Especially in conflict-ridden regions such as the Philippines, south east Turkey and Afghanistan, these institutions help reduce poverty and increase educational opportunities, which in turn decrease the appeal of terrorist groups with exclusivist agendas operations in these countries.
Philippines is an interesting example. Father Thomas Michel, former director of the Vatican’s Secretariat for Inter-religious Dialogue, describes his first encounter with these schools in Philippines as follows:
“My first encounter with one of these schools dates back to 1995, in Zamboanga, on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, when I learned that there was a ‘Turkish’ school several miles outside the city. On approaching the school, the first thing that caught my attention was the large sign at the entrance to the property bearing the name: ‘The Philippine-Turkish School of Tolerance.’ This is a startling affirmation in Zamboanga, a city almost equally 50% Christian and 50% Muslim, located in a region where for over 20 years various Moro separatist movements have been locked in an armed struggle against the military forces of the government of the Philippines.
I was well-received by the Turkish director and staff of the school, where over 1000 students study and live in dormitories. As I learned from the Turkish staff and their Filipino colleagues, both Muslim and Christian, the affirmation of their school as an institution dedicated towards formation in tolerance was no empty boast. In a region where kidnapping is a frequent occurrence, along with guerrilla warfare, summary raids, arrests, disappearances, and killings by military and para-military forces, the school is offering Muslim and Christian Filipino children, along with an educational standard of high quality, a more positive way of living and relating to each other. I had expected to find a more explicitly religious content to the curriculum and the physical environment, but this was not the case. When I asked about the surprising absence of what to me would have been an understandable part of a religiously-inspired educational project, I was told that because of the pluralist nature of the student bodies – Christians and Muslims in Zamboanga – that what they sought to communicate were universal human values such as honesty, hard work, harmony, and conscientious service rather than any confessional instruction.”
This is what we only can assure through education. As Mr. Fethullah Gulen states: “Until we help them through education, the young will be captives of their environment. They wander aimlessly, intensely moved by their passions, but far from knowledge and reason. They can become truly valiant young representatives of national thought and feeling, provided their education integrates them with their past, and prepares them intelligently for the future.”
This last phrase is important and would appear to be Gulen’s answer to ongoing international debates. “Integrate them with their past, and prepare them intelligently for the future.”. He continues: “If you wish to keep masses under control, simply starve them in the area of knowledge. They can escape such tyranny only through education. The road to social justice is paved with adequate, universal education, for only this will give people sufficient understanding and tolerance to respect the rights of others.” Thus, it is not only the establishment of justice which is hindered by the lack of well-rounded education, but also the recognition of human rights and attitudes of acceptance and tolerance toward others. If people are properly educated to think for themselves and to espouse the positive values of social justice, human rights and tolerance, they will be able to be agents of change to implement these beneficial goals.”
The crisis in modern societies arises from decades of schooling having produced “generations with no ideals.” It is human ideals, aims, goals, and vision which are the source of movement, action, and creativity in society. People whose education has been limited to the acquisition of marketable skills are no longer able to produce the dynamism needed to inspire and carry out societal change. The result is social atrophy, decadence, and narcissism. Gulen says: “When [people] are left with no ideals or aims, they become reduced to the condition of animated corpses, showing no signs of distinctively human life….Just as an inactive organ becomes atrophied, and a tool which is not in use becomes rusty, so aimless generations will eventually waste away because they lack ideals and aims.”
Our main interest in education should be the future. Well-rounded education, by its very nature, must involve a personal transformation in the student. Students must be accompanied and encouraged to move out of restrictive, particularistic ways of thinking and to interiorize attitudes of self-control, self-discipline which will enable them to make a lasting contribution to society. Fethullah Gulen states:
“Those who want to reform the world must first reform themselves. In order to bring others to the path of traveling to a better world, they must purify their inner worlds of hatred, rancor, and jealousy, and adorn their outer world with all kinds of virtues. Those who are far removed from self-control and self-discipline, who have failed to refine their feelings, may seem attractive and insightful at first. However, they will not be able to inspire others in any permanent way and the sentiments they arouse will soon disappear.
Finaly: “The permanence of a nation depends upon the education of its people, upon their lives being guided to perfection. If nations have not been able to bring up well-rounded generations to whom they can entrust their future, then their future will be dark.”