On Learning and the Looming Threats to Society

September 8, 2023

Anchored in the PAEI model, we discern four dimensions of learning: learning 'to do', (P), 'to know', (A), 'to think', (E), and 'to be', (I).

Vocational schools primarily teach us 'to do'. Formal education institutions help us learn 'to know', while professional schools—law, medicine, business, etc.—cultivate our ability 'to think'. Granted, no educational curriculum is a pure embodiment of a single modality. However, such delineation aids in examining the core focus of the imparted education.

While we effectively teach 'to do', 'to know', and 'to think', the emphasis on instructing 'to be' is progressively dwindling, even vanishing in certain societies.

Previously, it was inculcated in after-school programs, youth movements, volunteer work, sports, and predominantly at home.

Regrettably, the decline of structured after-school education is apparent. Sports, increasingly becoming competitive, tolerate questionable conduct in the face of victory. With the advent of dual-career households and remote grandparents—who once played an essential role in imparting the 'to be' education—this crucial instruction is being increasingly neglected. Consequently, we face a daunting question: Where will the next generation acquire the values that shape their behavior? Where will they learn the essence of 'to be'?

To my observation, it seems that it has shifted to the streets where the dangers of drugs loom, the commercial media that relentlessly competes to enhance profits by programming to satisfy the lowest needs of human beings. Little surprise then that sex, crime, violence, and potential, scandalous fake news dominate the airwaves. Even religion's grip on providing behavioral guiding values is slipping, as public trust in religious institutions and leaders is eroding.

Another formidable challenge to the 'to be' learning is posed by digital learning and the burgeoning field of Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI greatly accelerates the learning of 'to do' and 'to know', and with emergent tools, 'to think'. Yet, it offers little in the realm of 'to be', in instilling values that steer our behavior, in discerning right from wrong. Heightened efficiency and capability, devoid of guiding positive constructive values, could expedite the wrong decisions.

The capacity 'to be' is the most crucial factor for humanity especially at this moment. The rapid societal transformation, fueled by unprecedented rate of change in the history of mankind, is causing social disintegration, manifested by increased crime rates, divorces, depression, suicides, etc.If change causes disintegration and disintegration causes problems, the answer should be integration for which social values that integrate are critical. Neither the street nor the media that are the main educators of the new generation provide that.

Addressing emerging issues hastily and with questionable values will merely hasten our downfall as a civilization. It is time educators pay attention to the deficiency of teaching values.

Written by
Dr. Ichak Adizes