It would be easier to understand the profound thought in the quote, “The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts” which is attributed to C.S. Lewis, if we know more about the person.
C.S. Lewis is now widely known as the author of the books collectively known as the “Chronicles of Narnia” and comprising of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” and many others which have been made into three hugely successful movies. He was a well known author, thinker and educationist of his time. The quote is taken from his book “The Abolition of Man”.
If we look at the phrases ‘not to cut down the jungle’ and ‘irrigating the desert’; which were not a major concern in those days but now used so often by environmentalist to preserve the fragile eco-system of our planet. Education for the society should also play such a role for the human society.
Commercialization of Education
Of late, education has become an industry which thrives on cutting down the jungle and indulging in commercial activity to the detriment of the society at large.
On one hand jungle is destroyed and on the other the have-nots do not have access to quality education or even basic education.
The efforts should be on irrigating the desert or taking education to those who are deprived of it. In fact Martin Luther King Jr. also had this view for the black American population who were denied access to higher education.
Education is an enabler of one’s rights and dignity and as such it should be available to the needy and those disadvantaged groups in society. This would be akin to irrigating the desert.
Education has a great role to play in society. It is a great equalizer and an enabler for the progress of the society.
More Than an Economic Entity
If you ask any parent on why they are educating their children, the answer would invariably be to enable them to earn well for their livelihood.
Today’s education is more attuned towards making men into machines who can fit a certain role in the technologically dependent world. This in a way is dehumanizing humanity.
Excellence is translated into a selfish philosophy that promotes winner gets all. In such a scenario it is not difficult to foresee a world where the desert remains dry and infertile.
Should such a fate confront humanity in the times to come, it will promote more inequality and more hardships and misery for the human race as a whole.
This is where liberal education can play a vital role. It will provide the much needed human values to the society. Thus would be akin to irrigating the desert.
Emphasis on Social and Human Values
Modern education which only focuses on vocational or technical aspects may create a society bereft of any human values. That is the reason many eminent educationist emphasize on the societal role of education which promotes a more conducive world where human virtues and ideals can thrive amidst the chaos of an impersonal and technology driven life.
An education that has no soul will be detrimental to the very fabric of humanity. If you look at the education system and opportunities that are popular and prevalent, you will be able to grasp the essence of the quote.
The allegories of not cutting the jungle and irrigating the desert, conjures up a very powerful imageries of what is dear and precious for human life.