Education? What for?

The Thinker
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What Is The Purpose of Education?

This is the kind of philosophical question that drives people nuts. It drives me nuts.

Some say its A.

Some say its B.

Others propose C.

Then they spend the next decade arguing about which idea is right during which the education system marches along aimlessly without understanding why it exists.

This way of doing things has been good for some, not so good for some others and a downright disaster for the rest,

The realization of that last bit leads to pleas and demands that the education system be “reformed.”

Now that I have achieved middle age I can look back and see that these calls for reform are part of a self-perpetuating cycle that has a predictable pattern.

Here’s how it flows…

Every major change in technology raises fears that American children will be ‘left behind’ the children in the rest of the world. Those fears lead to calls for education reform.

New emphasis is put on math and science at the expense of social studies and the arts.

We accomplish putting a man on the moon or whatever.

We feel good for a while.

Then we notice that we’re still behind Latvia in math scores and Burkina Faso and Mongolia in science scores.

Rinse and repeat.

This is what happened when machines started to replace skilled tradesmen and women.

It happened again when airplanes started to expand travel and commercial opportunities.

The next wave of calls for reform came when the Soviet Union launched the first chimp-in-a-rocket and set off the space race.

Is it any wonder that as first computing and then communications systems became more pervasive, personal and portable, the calls for education reform have become feverish?

So here we go again, round and round into the spiral of another discussion of the purpose of education.

The one thing I’m sure about is this:

* Mission: STS-41-B * Film Type: 70mm * Title:...
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The purpose of education is NOT rising to the top according to some exam.

When did our nation become so small-minded?

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6 Responses to Education? What for?

  1. Lauren says:

    Interesting that it’s the introduction of new technology that gets people fired up…MAKING the devices is not the great achievement; it’s the idea for the device in the first place. I’d like to think our job in education is to provide the thinking skills and mindset to envision things that never existed, and then to figure out how to bring those concepts into reality. Problem-solving, critical thinking, and interdisciplinary connections ought to be getting more attention as routes to “success” and achievement.

  2. James Bach says:

    First you must ask what IS education.

    I think my education is my construction of my own mind. Your education is your construction of YOUR own mind.

    Sure, other people help us with that. But no one but the learner owns that learner’s education. Thinking of education in an externalized way: as some process of laying out flaming hoops for kids to jump through, for instance– almost always at the flick of a whip– is incoherent. That’s not consistent with a free society. That’s behaviorism; programming; brainwashing.

    Tell me that you have a degree from a master and that’s why I should listen to you, and my reply will be that I’d rather talk to your master. If you don’t own your thoughts, then you’re little more than an advanced chatbot.

    If education is behavior modification (“pretend to believe what I tell you or else you will be shunned”) then indeed I wonder “why education?”

    But if education is self-construction the question practically answers itself. Why education? That’s like asking why puberty? It’s what our bodies want to do. Education is what our minds want to do.

    Education is not a choice. Even if you grow up in a closet you are educated. (What a strange sad education that would be!) The *kind* of education you have is the choice. So it seems to me the more useful question is “Why THIS kind of education and not THAT kind?”

    Why learn mathematics instead of Latin? Why learn Latin instead of music? Why play video games? Why not play video games all the time? Why study things on purpose instead of meditate on a candle flame?

    These are not easy questions to answer, but the purpose question IS easy. The purpose of education is to satisfy our minds’ craving to BE. The purpose of institutional education is to help adults to cope with the fear and confusion they feel about their children.

  3. Ira Socol says:

    I’m at the Comparative International Education Society conference in Chicago tonight, and I’ve been having similar thoughts the last few hours.

    I began my day hearing a great presentation from a University of London researcher who said the global call for “Education for All” is empty rhetoric, because children need not just the “right TO education,” but “rights WITHIN education” and “rights THROUGH education” as well or it is meaningless. Now that’s an important idea to me.

    Then I listened to a powerful group, from the US, from Northern Ireland, from Germany, from Namibia discussing how to expand real access through working on societal attitudes. That’s a very important idea to me.

    Then, in session 3, came people bemoaning the lost purposes of education. They were pretending this was a 21st Century issue, and I skipped out before question time because I knew what I was going to say, “you are all bemoaning the impact of the Reformation, and I’m with you there. I too object to the stripping of importance from the arts and liberal studies. I too hate that misery is correlated with “necessary effort” in schools. I too hate single measurement systems of learning. But this is a 500 year ago loss, and our culture is our culture. So shut up about it and help people become subversive teachers as Postman and Weingartner did more than 40 years ago.”

    But I didn’t say. Everybody thinks I’m nuts already.

  4. Michael J says:

    Now you’ve done it. All said in one post.

    Imagine if your wrote this for a PhD. No footnotes! Too short! Besides any parent or child of any school could understand it. No doubt a professor would say, “Good first effort, Mr. Black, but please develop into a 50 page document in edspeak”

    Jane Jacobs in Dark Ages Ahead has a brilliant description of the effects of “credentialing”. Probably not much that you don’t already know. But when Jacobs says it has the right cred.

    For my money, Jacobs is the smartest person I’ve read on issues of the wealth creation, cities. Since she is a she and never got an advanced degree, usually doesn’t get her due in “policy making” circles.

    My take is the education establishment has the Pogo problem. “We have met the enemy and It is us.”

  5. Michael J says:

    We may be in luck. I came across an article in Business Week. It seems that some board of someone has decided US ranks 11th place in innovation { BW }

    Like all rankings the headline out of context makes little sense. It’s like getting an A- or a 87%. But it’s just the kind of thing that someone might grab on to as the “innovation gap.” Then we can all get stressed on “how to make our educational outcome innovation.”

  6. […] I pointed them to yesterday’s blog […]

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