“How do you feel?”

That’s a question we usually ask someone who has been ill, or hurt physically in some way. The most common response — and I have not conducted a poll — is probably, “Fine.”

There is also the old reliable, “Better,” and, popular among pessimists, “I could be better.” One I used to use, just to mix things up, was, “Pretty good for an old guy.”

But today I want to use “How do you feel” with a different focus. I’m not interested in condition, I want to know how you learned the emotions you have and how you learned to control them. Because while emotions seem natural, they are in fact learned, practiced, and refined as surely as taste is.

Perhaps you are surprised to hear that you have learned your emotions, but it’s true. If you were fortunate you got some of that in school.

What we teach

I’m not an expert on K – 12 education. No one is these days, at least in Arizona, because there are so many choices available to parents. From home-schooling to charter schools to private to public, there are options.

My point here is that all education is not standardized, nor should it be. Even if it were, different teachers teach differently. But I do believe early education in general is failing to teach the whole student.

Lower grade education has moved steadily toward what I would call “head learning.” STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) is found primarily in colleges and high schools, but seems to be starting earlier and earlier. Once upon a time it was “the three R’s — readin’, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmatic.”

That is also focused on “head learning,” but at least it’s funny. STEM? Not funny.

Here is the dilemma: People think the purpose of school, perhaps from Day 1, is to prepare children for careers. We have forgotten that a critical purpose of education is to prepare them for life.

Back when “the three R’s” were taught, so were the arts. Music, art, and even home economics fall into that category. So does creative writing, and so does the school play. The great value of the arts is that they lend themselves beautifully to “heart learning.”

STEM is important, but it is more utilitarian than uplifting. Our heads need it, but our hearts need something different.

Hearts that learn

I found an article in U.S. News titled The Benefits of Arts Education for K-12 Students. Turns out the benefits are numerous, including helping kids develop emotional skills.

What? There are skills for emotions? Yes.

Emotional Intelligence first appeared as a term in 1964, but it gained recognition in 1995 through a bestselling book by Daniel Goleman. The title was Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. I have not read the book, but I agree with the premise of the title.

I also believe that EI can be improved by almost everyone at almost any age, but that the very best age to begin learning EI is as a young child.

Which means we should be teaching it both at home and at school. I can’t speak to what is happening in homes, but as schools continue to focus more and more on head learning, hearts are increasingly empty.

Why teach emotions?

Over the past twenty years people have noticed college students in general becoming more and more “progressive” in their thinking and actions. For the most part America smiled knowingly and said, “They’ll grow out of it.”

Recently, though, the smiles turned to frowns. A lot of that had to do with the reaction of college students to Hamas invading Israel, murdering many people and kidnapping more.

Of course it wasn’t just the killing, it was beheading and raping and all kinds of horrific crimes against non-combatant civilians. They were acts of evil, and the perpetrators proudly posted them online.

Anyone with empathy, anyone with awareness of the pain and suffering of others, recoiled at those actions — even if they sided against Israel.

Many college students called those evil acts justified, protested against Israel and rallied to support Hamas. Some of them took to violence themselves. Most of the blame for all of that fell at the feet of college presidents. That’s probably appropriate, but I think much of the blame should have been directed at the grade schools and high schools and yes, even homes, where those students were never taught about emotions.

Too many young people go away to college with heads full of knowledge but hearts that are untrained and a fertile field for evil-doers.

No wonder so many students become zealots for some cause that stirs their emotions. They have no skills, no discernment, no empathy, no emotional control. They’ve never been taught.

Training the heart

It is in the emotions that we learn the concept of objective value. That is to say, there are things that have value in and of themselves. You have value, for example, and if someone thinks you have no value they can push you out of the way at work or on the street. And your emotions would respond!

What if you saw that happen to some other person? Would your emotions respond? All people have objective value, whether young or old, fit or ill.

Aristotle said the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. Plato before him said the same.

The heart does not take the place of the head, but it can and should learn to obey it. The goal is to teach students the art of making appropriate responses, no matter what others are doing.

It is a leader leading by good example. It is a father teaching his son how to be a man.

C. S. Lewis wrote, “Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism.”

You have seen that truth, and so have I. Fortunately, we can do better.

Let’s train hearts as well as heads. That will most certainly bring more good into the world. And we could use it.

Leave a Reply