In symphonies of almost any era, the French horn, as a solo instrument exemplifies nobility and heroism: its characteristic strong, mellow tone tugs at the heart and spirit and increases the pulse rate.

Metaphorically, the same should be true of schools. They are about nobility and hope. Nobility is a matter of the heart and soul, and the heart is the home of hope and integrity. The arts exemplify this.

Leon Botstein in his book Jefferson’s Children stated:

“The arts create and sustain new ways of keeping freedom from losing meaning. They help individuals retain their own sense of uniqueness in a world in which the pressure to conform is intense. They fill out the hollow structures of democratic rights with meaning that is profoundly personalized. It provides imaginative world in which each individual can find a place and effectively fight the battle against deadening conformity. They are not superfluous embellishments of life, the ornaments we can do without. Like science, making and appreciating of art is integral to the practice of freedom. The arts challenge the monopoly of commerce in matters of fundamental values. The many generations of philosophers who have pondered integral relationship between beauty and truth, between aesthetics and ethics, have done so with extremely good reason.”

Ironically, many learning experiences with little apparent practical value are essential to understanding the human condition and our ability to function as successful human beings. Is there room for a discussion and understanding of beauty? What about the concepts of liberty and justice, which are continually in the process of being defined? Is the value of a great piece of literature or a poem of little use in boardrooms, factories or law offices? Does peeking into the soul of an author and getting an intimate glimpse of the heart and spirit of humanity create greater meaning and an understanding of harmony, joy and imagination? Education must go beyond preparing children to merely work and exist: it is to help them live wisely with meaning and purpose.

Education is supposed to be a French horn that appeals to children’s hopes and dreams that can be played in a variety of tempos, keys, and moods. It is not simply an exercise in obtaining a job, basic literacy, filling out applications or getting into a college of choice.

Education is not always pragmatic and its sole objective is not the acquisition of material goods and employment opportunities. Nobility in human conduct comes from people who have reached beyond skills and basic information — those who have moved beyond ego to ideals and principled character.

Children need to hear French horns calling them to the ideals of education and life, and help them continue their pursuit of happiness. Appreciating human genius, imagination and creativity, even in the pursuit of things that are viewed as impractical, should be honored. Educated or well-schooled: the fate of all of us depends on the difference. Students must not only be smart, they must also be wise.

See ‘The Fog of Reform’ for more on education v. schooling.