The Foundation of Education

Education can only be performed in love, through love and in order to teach how to love.
by Tomás Melendo | Source:

Preface: An imaginary dialogue with Tomás Melendo, author of the article. (By Marta Román)

(Marta Román): — Tomás, if my kids read this they'll say it's old-fashioned, outdated. No matter what title you give your articles or your conferences,  you always end up the same: in love.
(Tomás Melendo): — True, and not only do I "end up" in love, I also begin in love. I know, it's old-fashioned, as our kids say. But so what?
(M. R.): — Weeell… I don't know, try to come across as more… psychological? …more like an expert educator instead of a desperate parent?
(T. M.): — Ugh! I'd rather be old-fashioned.
(M. R.): — But all who read these things start asking questions…
(T. M.): — But that's a good thing.
(M. R.): — But, we desperate parents are looking for answers!
(T. M.): — Yes, and that's why I write so many articles on education, the person, sexuality, family, work, … on love, that is, as you know.
(M. R.): — ???
(T. M.): — I mean, that after 40 years of thinking and studying, I can't find answers anywhere else. What else can I do?
(M. R.): — So, there are answers?
(T. M.): — By the cartload, but all of them have to do with love.
(M. R.): — Tomás, let me tell you something curious: Do you know how to say that you love someone in Italian? Voler bene. I see you added "good" to "querer" in your Spanish article, as the same word is used to "querer" (want) a Coke as "querer" (love) your child. When an Italian boy tells a girl he loves her, he says: "Ti voglio bene." Doesn't that sound better?
(T. M.): — Great! Thank you for telling me this. It gives me an idea…
(M. R.): — I knew you'd like it. By the way, I loved your article.

1. Introduction

Father and mother are, by nature, the first educators of their children, a role they cannot renounce. However, it seems that parents today sometimes try to ignore this. And not only do they ask for assistance, they even seek, almost consciously and clearly, to be replaced in this irreplaceable role.

1.1 The difficulty of educating

This sort of reluctance is more than understandable. The educational mission of the parents is no easy task, and even less so in modern times.

   In any case, this task is full of presumably irreconcilable contrasts. For example, throughout their lives, parents:

a) must welcome and take in each child —unique, unrepeatable as he is— even though sometimes he might not live up to their expectations. Children are not the "property" of those who beget them, nor can they use them at will: their most radical truth lies not in being our children, but in being children of God, with all the greatness, autonomy and freedom conferred on them by this fact.

b) must respect the children’s freedom; even more, they must foster it and make it grow, while at the same time guiding and correcting the children.

c) must be understanding, but also firm with their children, without easily giving up when faced with something that might be bad for them, no matter how much they insist.

d) must help the children in their tasks, without taking over or sparing them the formative effort, as well as the satisfaction and self-esteem that come from a job well done; in other words, whatever a child may reasonably do by himself, must never be done by his parents or other people.

1.2. Learning to be parents

Accordingly, parents must learn by themselves from a very early stage to be parents,.
No job begins its professional training when the candidate reaches an important position and is in charge of high-risk tasks: no such thing happens, neither in building work, mechanics, graphic arts or design, nor in medicine, architecture, engineering, law, the army, politics, management or business...

   Therefore, why should the "parenting job" be different? Maybe because parents' responsibility seems minor when compared to that of people working in a "conventional" profession?

   But this is not so. On the contrary, as I have said for years, following John Paul II: "As the family goes, so goes the nation," because that’s how man, the human person, is: the future of society is at stake in every home, and in every marriage.

   Is this, perhaps, because it is more of an art than a science? Even if an agreement on this point were possible, inspiration and intuition are not enough in any kind of art. It is also necessary to receive instruction, training, to practice, as is rightly shown by those artists who seem to perform their task effortlessly. The more "natural" the master work may look, the more work it has required: effort and hard work, often previously consolidated in the form of skills.

1.3. No "recipes", but "principles"

On the other hand, learning the "trade" of parenting and educating is not a matter of acquiring a set of recipes or prepared solutions immediately applicable to problems as they appear. Neither is it a cluster of infallible skills.

   Such recipes and skills do not exist. On the contrary, there are principles or foundations for education, to shed light on various situations: parents must be familiar with them, to the point of thinking and living them as part of their own lives, so that they may face daily life with almost no need for deliberation.

   This is no easy task. With this firmly in mind, I now offer a scaled-down explanation of two or three of the principal criteria and suggestions on the "art of arts," as education has been called. Or rather, as will quickly become clear, I will try to point out the ultimate foundation of all educational activity.

2. At the confluence of three loves

The most radical and profound approach to the problem indicates that the key to education and to all its accompanying tasks can be summarized in a single word —love— and the following two corollaries:

a) First, there is a constant need of learning to love, never assuming that one knows how to love, contrary to what we often think. Benavente's words are worth considering, when he stated that, without exception, "love must go to school."

b) Also, we must foster the conviction that nobody learns to love and to educate as if by magic, but that it is within our power to improve our loving. Learning to love is "the great subject in life," it is the reason we come into this world; St John of the Cross maintained that at the end of our life, we would be examined on the subject of love… and nothing else.

Let's see how these suggestions may take shape.

3. Loving your children

3.1. Genuine, real love

In order to educate their children, the first thing parents need is a true and complete love for them.

   According to a French author, education requires, besides "a modicum of science and experience, much common sense and, above all, much love." In other words, it is necessary to master a few pedagogical principles and learn to act sensibly, but never assume it is enough to apply any nice little theory in order to get the right results. All this would prove insufficient, without the indispensible ingredient of an authentic and true love.

   Why is this? For very many reasons, most of them discovered by intuition.

a) The first reason, so obvious that often it is overlooked, is that, if we don't love our children, we won't even pay attention to them… except when they stir up trouble "for us."

b) Also, because "each child —as a person— is absolutely irreplaceable," different from all others. It is not a case among many others. Hence, no instruction manual can explain and resolve this alleged singular "case": principles must be fine-tuned according to the temperament, age and circumstances of each child.

c) Consequently, each one must be treated individually, not all in the same way, as we sometimes try to do, even thinking that it is the correct thing to do: Aristotle warned that treating unequals as equals is as unjust —and as ineffective— as treating equals as being different.

d) But in order to treat each child as befitting his unique needs, we must know him well; and only love can let us know each one as he is right now —and as he is called to be in the future— and help us act according to this know-ledge. Even accepting the truth of the old saying that "love is blind," it is much more profound and real to say that love is sharp and perceptive, discerning; and that, when dealing with persons, only a true love can make us able to get to know them well, to their core… and to act accordingly.

e) On the other hand, and particularly in our day, we should differentiate between true love - which aspires to the real good of the loved one, helping him get the better of himself - and its many substitutes: self-love, which may be  disguised as compassion or tenderness, passion, whims, sentimentality, etc. I will reflect more on this aspect in a forthcoming article.

3.2. Love is clear-sighted

True love is never blind; to the contrary, it is astute and penetrating.

   In fact, it is this type of love that will teach parents:

a) To discover the qualities to be fostered in their children, instead of fixating and monotonously insisting on correcting defects. This is a key point to be dealt with in a future article.

b) To realize the best moments to "be there" and to "disappear," to talk or to be silent; this is an issue especially relevant during adolescence, "which God thought of especially for parents," as I usually explain and which we will also discuss in a forthcoming work.

c) To find the time to play with the children and to get interested in their problems, without grilling them, and respecting their need to be alone.

d) To discern the occasions when it’s better to "give the children some space" and "not to notice" certain things, from those times when decisive action, or even a bit of liveliness and faked aggressiveness is needed…

   And, as I pointed out, parents are irreplaceable throughout this difficult enterprise; there are other, more or less efficacious helps, but the decisive point is always them, in the plural: the father and the mother.

   Once there was a married couple, living under strong pressure from their professions, looking for a gift for their child in a toy store: they asked for something to amuse him, keep him quiet and, most importantly, to take away his feeling of loneliness. An intelligent attendant wittily explained, "Sorry, but we don’t sell parents here."

4. Mutual love

The first thing a child needs for his education is for his parents to love each other.

4.1. Necessary condition

"We do everything to make sure that he’s never lacking anything, we see to his every whim, and still…"

   Words like these are frequently uttered by many parents who are apparently thrown into taking care of their children —healthy food, vitamins and tonics, sophisticated toys and games, designer clothing and accessories, seaside or winter vacations, no time or expense spared in providing amusements…—, but they forget the most important thing the little ones need: that their own parents love each other and remain together.

   Mutual love of parents is what brought the children into the world. And that same love of the parents for each other must complete the task, helping the child achieve his potential and reach the happiness to which he is called.

   Education, the natural complement of procreation, must have the same causes —the love of parents— that begot the child.

   Several centuries ago it was said that, when leaving the mother's womb, where amniotic liquid protected and nourished him, the child would clamor for a different "womb" and a different "liquid," without which he could not grow and develop; that is, those produced by the father and the mother by their true love for each other.

4.2. Sufficient condition

It is then clear that mutual love is a necessary condition for education. But, taking terms in their true meaning —an authentic love between parents— you could also say it’s a "sufficient condition."

   Therefore, each spouse must, above all, cultivate love towards the other spouse: I will always say, as I say now, that this is the key of the whole family life.

   After that, and as a natural consequence of their mutual love, married couples must:

a) magnify the image of the other spouse before the children, teaching them to respect and love him or her;

b) and avoid anything that might decrease or hinder the love the children have towards

this spouse.

   More specifically, from the children’s earliest age the parents must, besides prudently but clearly showing in words and actions the love that binds them together, pay special attention:

a) not to fight or make sarcastic comments toward each other in front of the children;

b) not to let the children do what the other spouse has forbidden… although they might later have to come to an agreement in private;

c) to absolutely avoid comments that might make the child distrust or doubt the other spouse: "don't tell your dad/mom about this," etc.

   All of this might be summed up in a single principle, to which we will dedicate a future article.

   Children, each and every one of them, have one single right. A unique right, so fundamental that no one can threaten it.

   It is the right to the person of their parents: to their intimacy, their time, their authority, their understanding, their delicacy… As I said, I will address this in another article.

5. Teaching to love

5.1. Beginning and end
As we have just seen:

a) The radical principle of education is that parents must love each other, and as a consequence of that love, they must truly love their children.

b) The end or aim of that education is that the children, in turn, learn to love: this is the only activity that perfects the human being as a person, and in the end, is the only activity that can make him happy.

   As Caldera explains, "the true greatness of man, his perfection, and therefore his mission or task, is love. Any other achievements — professional qualifica-tions, prestige, wealth, a relatively long life, intellectual development — must converge in love or else remain empty and meaningless"… and, if it is not ultimately aimed at love, it might even prove harmful.

   Therefore, although seemingly paradoxical, if to educate is to love, then to love, in turn, is to teach to love, as there is no other destiny for a human being, no other key to his perfection or happiness.

   In short, to educate is equivalent to promoting the capacity to love of those we are trying to educate.

5.2. Attentive to others

I will summarize all that has been said so far in one single sentence: the entire educational task of parents must be aimed, in the end, toward increasing the capacity for love in each child and —as the other side of the same coin—avoiding anything that might make him egotistical, self-centred and closed up within himself, less capable of discovering, wanting, pursuing and achieving the good of others.

   Children are educated when they are propelled and taught —more so with actions than with words— to be more attentive to others than to themselves.

   And this is so, not just in preparation for the future, when they will be encouraged to study or prepare themselves to "become productive citizens," but also now, in the present.

a) Teaching them, for instance, to make good use of the time they have available right now to help their friends who experience difficulties at school or in any other area.

b) Asking them first "how their friends are", even before asking if they, our own children, had a good time at some particular recreational activity.

c) Asking such questions when they come home from school indicates by our deeds that we give more importance to what they do for others, than to their own grades.

d) Or, when choosing a career or profession, we encourage them to consider not only or foremost the professional "possibilities" —which, in the end, translate into economic "chances"—, but in which job they may be more helpful to those around them, and contribute to their happiness.

5.3. To make them happy

And all this, for a very clear purpose: because, only if we teach our children to love well will we contribute to making them happy and truly blessed.

   Happiness and joy, as the most prominent Classical philosophers and top contemporary psychiatrists have shown, are but the unexpected effect of improving our own selves, of progressively making us better persons: and this can only be achieved through a better and more intense love, by opening our hearts wide and purifying our love.

   In other words: when seeking to educate we must bear clearly in mind that happiness is in direct and exclusive proportion to the capacity for love of each person, which is shown through actions:

a) whoever loves much, is very happy;

b) whoever has a mediocre love, will never achieve full happiness;

c) and whoever doesn't know how to love, or can't or won't love, what-ever his success in all other aspects of human life will end up completely miserable —even if he tries to hide or ignore it, or even if he convinces himself otherwise.

   This is why St John of the Cross could confidently state, in his well-known saying quoted earlier: "In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone"... and nothing else!

6. Recapitulation

Any educative action will only be valid as long as the reason for any counsel given for doing or avoiding something, acting or refraining from acting, is authentic love towards the person we are trying to educate or, in other words, for the true good of that person, which must always prevail over our own good; and that good is the development and perfection of his own capacity for love.


   Love, therefore, is the key —the beginning and the end, and everything in between— to all education.


   Education can only be performed in love, through love and in order to teach how to love.

About the Author:
Tomás Melendo
Philosophy Professor
Universidad de Málaga

Translated by: Elizabeth Segura, a Volunteer.
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Post a Comment
Published by: Mike
Date: 2011-03-17 20:58:14
Mr. Melendo, Thank you for the article on education and love. It made me realize that it is time to begin to let my children begin helping me more. This way they too can feel the sense of satisfaction of doing a job well and helping the family. I look forward to your upcoming articles.

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