Proverbs are powerful statements that are often short in length, but deep in meaning. The meaning, which is often metaphorical, typically delivers a wallop of a message if given the proper time and reflection. Sadly, due to the easily memorable nature of proverbs, the intended message is often overlooked.
When it comes to education, there is one proverb in particular that has a message that is at the core of what schools of learning should be, and it is truly worth exploring in detail. That familiar yet powerful proverb is “If you give a man a fish you feed him for a day; if you teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Students of any age who encounter this proverb probably get the general surface value of the age-old saying, but what happens if they are asked to dig deeper? Let’s start with the idea of giving. Giving a person in need the sustenance needed to survive in the short-term is indeed a kind and helpful act. Children are correctly taught that giving is inherently good and thus the act is compassionate and worth emulating. It is simplistically correct to interpret that the proverb reinforces the lesson that children are taught at an early age; giving is good.
Looking beyond giving, the true meaning of the proverb lies in the second half of the proverb around the concept of teaching. Building off of the concept of giving, the proverb begs the audience to explore the immense and long-lasting value of education. While not ignoring that giving makes the world a better place, the proverb introduces the power that teaching and learning have in changing the world. The citizens of a world who are taught how to learn and be able to accomplish tasks is a world where knowledge isn’t simply given, but instead it is shared.
Knowledge sharing is truly long-lasting and empowering. For example, imagine a student who is given all the math formulas needed to pass a particularly tough section of a school year. That student memorizes the formula, uses them to pass all the required tests and then, once finished, soon forgets them entirely. Now imagine instead that the student has a teacher who teaches not only how to use the formulas, but provides instruction on how, why and in what real-life situations the formulas can be applied. It is likely that the student who is taught and actually engages with the formulas will have lifelong opportunities to use them, perhaps even in a career-based environment.
As the proverb deftly states, good education is immeasurably valuable. Schools that provide students a true opportunity to learn and engage with both materials and qualified instructors are the schools that will build the foundation of a lifetime of success. Simply put, knowledge is a gift. Any great educational institution that provides a real opportunity for deep learning and therefore actually gives such a gift are, like any good proverb, truly worth investing in.