I have found myself lately asking what the purpose of education is. I have asked myself this question many times and never really found a satisfactory answer; part of my dilemma is that I cannot answer this question without being influenced by my environment, my upbringing and ultimately, what “smart people” before me have said. Through my many talks with folks around town (and out of town for that matter), I have come to realize there are two very different views on the purpose of education. At least two – there might be more. So this is Part 1, because I am sure I will have more to say as I dig into this question more seriously. But I am putting this out in a public place also to elicit comments and thoughts from others.
On that note, I wonder; “Is there an absolute answer, or are there many correct answers?” No doubt, there are many perspectives. Are they all valid? I tend to believe in Absolutes, FYI. But I am not yet convinced if the purpose of education is absolute or not. Clearly, how education is practiced and the justification for it as nearly as diverse as the stars.
So in my googling, I have two important queries from which I am drawing my internet influence:
The Purpose of Education: https://www.google.com/search?sugexp=chrome,mod=19&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=the+purpose+of+eduation#hl=en&sa=X&ei=8tS4T5OTPMbo6gGgmNnnCg&ved=0CBMQvwUoAQ&q=the+purpose+of+education&spell=1&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_cp.r_qf.,cf.osb&fp=678d7b5b459d50f0&biw=1600&bih=1109
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: http://www.drmartinlutherkingjr.com/thepurposeofeducation.htm (plus several more)
- Eleanor Roosevelt: http://newdeal.feri.org/er/er19.htm
- Noam Chomsky: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/03/13/noam-chomsky-on-the-purpose-of-education/
- David Warlick: http://davidwarlick.com/2cents/?p=1668
- 21st Century Schools: http://www.21stcenturyschools.com/Purpose_of_Education.htm
The History of Education: https://www.google.com/search?sugexp=chrome,mod=19&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=the+history+of+education
- Wiki entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_education
- History-world.org: http://history-world.org/history_of_education.htm
- Peter Gray: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/200808/brief-history-education
I tried to choose the top hits without discriminating – for the History, I did discriminate against “American History” as I wanted a wide perspective.
What I found most interesting is that the 5 links I have for the Purpose of Education all make an argument, like Ken Robinson, against the current factory model of the educational system. From a point of observation, it seems to me that the current goal of education in America is two fold, as stated from the White House; to “prepare for global competitiveness” and “putting Americans to work”. That message is clearly echoed in our local school district where we teach to a test (more or less) and try very hard to prepare our children to enter into the workforce (those that are not “certified” often fall through the cracks and end up in jail, creating a never-ending downward spiral). I believe there is good motive in that people who work and make money are seen as “contributing to society”. But I see that as a dangerous trap and I caution us to be careful about the use of the words “contributing” and “society”. If we really wish to go that route, we must then ask “What is Society?” (another google search for that…..)
King (Jr.), Roosevelt, Nomsky and Warlick talk about critical thought and educating folks so that they can function well in a healthy, vibrant community of citizens. For those of you who know me and/or have been reading here for a while, you probably know I align myself easily with these ideas. I have become a big believer in the need to focus on a system that is equitable, avoids marginalization of the lower class(es), allows those who excel to fully pursue their strengths and teaches man to live alongside one another in such a way as to produce trust, understanding and compassion. You might look in the newspaper headlines or catch scenes on local TV about all sorts of crimes, brutalities, accidents and wrongdoing and declare that the system I believe in is impossible. It is very easy to come to that conclusion, I agree. But is it really impossible? Or is it “merely” quite challenging and difficult?
This is a topic I am struggling with, a mental wrestling match. When I asked my daughter what the purpose of education is, she said:
So kids can have fun learning and learn how to learn.
I dearly hope she can hang on to that over the next few years. Perhaps my job is to help her grip be tenacious, persistent and never-ceasing upon that goal. Maybe.