Education: Training men to think

As a Methodist missionary in the early days of Methodist work in Singapore, Dr B. F. West was a trained physician, edited Malaysia Message for a time, and was first to introduce theological training. His experience provided him enough background to comment on what Methodist schools should do to prepare their students for a meaningful life. His observations are still relevant, perhaps even more today.

‘WHAT IS EDUCATION? Judging from experience in the Straits Settlements one would be tempted to answer that “it is something which enables a man to command better wages than he could without it”.

Parents send their boys to school so that they can get positions at which they can earn a few more dollars than they otherwise could. But this is not the purpose – the end – of education.

It is the business of education to train men to think. Education is not the mere acquisition of knowledge. It is not just learning a few rules, more or less, by which to work out more or less difficult problems.

Berkeley (18th century Irish Bishop and philosopher) said: “Few men will think but all will have opinions.” But what are opinions worth if not founded upon solid thinking?

Education must have for its aim the development of the man. Eyes are to be trained to see things as they are; ears to hear sounds as they are; minds to know truth as it is. Education is to dispel superstition and pride and arrogance, and to awaken thought and responsibility.

“Men are afraid of truth unless it is their truth. Some admit so-called scientific truth, but exclude religious truth, or admit religious truth and are afraid of scientific truth.”

Education must train a man to see things as they are, and to admit all truth, no difference what effect each admission may have upon cherished traditions and ancient customs.

Then what do these Mission schools stand for? They do not stand for proselytising agencies. They are not founded for the purpose of uprooting the external forms of one system of religion and substituting others therefore. They exist for the
purpose of serving the community, “not by colouring it red or blue or any other colour” but to inculcate principles of honour and truth, to dig away the foundations of ignorance and superstition and to replace them with knowledge and morality, with fearless thinking and right motives, courage to follow the right when right has been ascertained.

There is no concealed selfish purpose. There is no aim at personal gain but there is an aim for the general advancement of the community. ere is an aim to develop the youth of Malaysia in a symmetrical way; to bring out in due proportion, the powers of head and heart, learning and godliness. “To fit for life itself, whether in home, or factory, or office, or class room, or farm, or trade, or profession; to prepare the individual boy or girl to do a man’s or a woman’s work.”

Our schools stand for the moral (religious if you will) training as well as the intellectual training of the youth, for no education is complete or even of much worth, unless along with the development of the intellect there is also that development of the moral nature which will give self-control, and reverence, and self-respect, and uprightness, of actions, and purity of motives, and worship of God, without which life is a wanton misuse of noble powers,not for time only, but for eternity.’ – MM December 1905, p. 23.

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