The wise answer the whys

Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS].

How many footballers can we name? Most of us could name hundreds, I am sure. How many philosophers can we name? Hmmm! It is not often that you would find the word ‘footballer’ and ‘philosopher’ in the same sentence (this sentence excepted!) but in doing so our understanding of education may be improved.

Sports coaches are guilty of ‘play station coaching’, of shouting non-stop instructions from the sidelines to their players – a technique that does not help the players learn anything. Indeed, we have to ask who exactly is playing the game in that situation. Equally frustrating is the popular habit of interviewers asking inane, insane questions of the managers and players after a match. The questions are not relevant, helpful, insightful or probing; instead, they simply seek to be provocative and controversial – while the answers rarely rise above the banal.

Eric Cantona was a star French player for Manchester United who livened up not only soccer matches but also press conferences, the latter with self-proclaimed philosophical utterances that totally bamboozled the media. His most well-known statement after a match was “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.” No-one ever really discovered why he said that though!

This writer may be similarly accused of making apparently unrelated, inane comments now in providing some cooking tips or reminders, while being the first to confess not being a star chef nor having any pleasure in watching the plethora of cooking programmes on television. Notwithstanding that, two culinary comments are offered here.

Firstly, we must always remember to add spice to meals. It may have lots of healthy ingredients, it may be cooked well, it may smell divine but if the taste is not quite right then all the effort will have been wasted. Often it will simply lack salt; other times it may lack Sage. Secondly, great care and thought must be given as to what meal should be served for any specific occasion – we do not just go to a recipe book, open it at random and proceed with cooking the first recipe we see.

The reason such advice is offered is that education is like that. Knowledge is all the ingredients for our meal; understanding is mixing them together; and learning is the process of cooking them. It is no good having lots of knowledge on our plate, fancy or not; it is no good simply throwing the ingredients together haphazardly; it is no good cooking them at random. We need lots of sage.

The knowledgeable among us will know that ‘Sage’ means ‘Wise’ – it is that which will transform someone’s life. Insight, discernment, application all contribute to it but it is wisdom that really matters. Wisdom is knowing what to do with the knowledge, how to serve it, who to present it to. We need wisdom in choosing what meal to serve for which occasion in the same way that we need wisdom in making choices, in dealing with different situations, in getting the most out of different people; it is what gives youngsters the ability to respond. We need wisdom in every sphere of life, yet strangely enough it is the one thing that schools rarely talk about, let alone teach.

A man once received a birthday card with a badge attached – the badge read “older but wiser” except that the “wiser” had been crossed out and replaced with “wider”! It was probably a fair comment but it raised an interesting point. We often think that we automatically become wiser the older we become – that is far from the truth. We are more likely to become wider than wiser as we grow older. There are many old people who are not wise and there are young people who have gained wisdom early in life. Our desire must be to help our young people to aim to be wise, now, in their youth. Psalm 90:12 teaches that it is a heart of wisdom that our children must gain – not purely results because without wisdom results are meaningless – and dangerous.

Why the Wise? Answer: the wise answer the WHYs! Wise folk know the WHYS. It is easy to answer the WHAT questions, the WHO questions, the WHEN questions but it is harder to answer the WHYs. The HOWs will bring us to understanding but the WHYs will bring us to wisdom. Any questions?


  • Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.
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