Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What is the purpose of education?

I got a recent tweet from @AlfieKohn which sent me of on the roads of my discontent. I read the article and it made me think again about What it the purpose of education? Why do we teach? Sometimes I wonder if it's all an exercise in futility. Are we really accomplishing our goals?

An example: I have believed ever since I wrote my college application essay that true learning changes the way I behave. If I don't behave differently then I haven't learned. The same can be true for teaching. If the people I teach don't change then they haven't learned. The problem is "What direction the change?" If someone teaches children that cheating will get them ahead in life and they begin cheating and succeeding, they learned!

So, what do I as a teacher teach? Well, I have always held that what I want to teach is good citizenship, informed decision making and to help kids become bulletproof bullsh*&% detectors.

I guess, when it comes right down to it there are two purposes to education in my mind. To create a more socially conscious citizenship. To help the young people within my influence consider the needs of others and society as they go about the work of life. Also, I want to inspire everyone I can to strive to achieve their greatest human potential, but not potential as defined either by business nor academia. Their potential as defined by them as an individual. I want them to become good and what they want to become good at especially as it fits with the first goal I have for education which is the betterment of society.

This brings up though my great conondrum and my great challenge. What makes a better society? Who decides this. We have quite a bit of strife in our world. Some people define a good society as one where individual differences and choices are valued while others see the wide-open choices as license and licentious.

Also, and the article I read highlighted this there seems to be a divide between the economists and the academics. The economists of the world want value, specifically economic value from our education system. The academics want value from specifically, cultural value from our educational system.

What do we do? Not all people will develop such that they hold in high regard the humanities, the arts, the cultural side to life. But those who do still need someone to clean out the septic tank. It is frustrating to me to see that all work has value and that both arguments have value and I believe they aren't exclusionary. Can a plumber value VanGogh? Can a concert pianist appreciate a well made cabinet?

So, again there are two reasons to educate:
1. to give people the very real skills they need to be a productive contributing member of our economy
2. to give people the very real appreciation of the history, art, literature, science and body of understanding that is our human heritage.

Can we do this?

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