What are we missing from the great School of Athens?

Many of us who have attended Higher Education leave with an award and the technical skills we have developed. However what about the behavioural and the emotional development of our graduates? Were they taught how to understand or govern emotions, or how to reflect on the purpose of life? Perhaps schools and universities should offer some further guidance to people, not just for their careers, but for life at its best and worst.

Most students can relate to a factory style higher education system – where one clocks in, submits an essay, clocks out, but are essentially left to your own devices. There are many students who are chronologically adult, but who show a reluctance to behave in a self-directed manner. Should there be increased institutional concern for undergraduate well-being and the broader development of character? A degree is preparation for the world of work, the market. This ‘reality’ is an environment which many graduates find difficult  adapting within as they journey through life.

Emotions and behaviours are central to our graduates success. The educational landscape should surely be one which provides positive learning and produces a ‘productive citizen’. The teachers depicted in The School of Athens once provided this. They taught their students how to transform their emotions, how to cope with adversity, how to live the best possible lives. The students were taught philosophy, poetry, theology and law. Should all disciplines nowadays at least tip into these domains?

Perhaps, as in Raphael’s painting, there is unity in diversity. Can we as educators share an optimism in human rationality and in the ability of philosophy to improve lives?


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