What is the purpose(s) of education?

Throughout our readings this week, and the prompting of Seth Godin’s TEDxYouth talk, I keep coming back to the question of what purpose should school fill?

It’s an easy enough question, right? Personally, I am not so sure. I feel like the overall objectives of education, for me, are fairly easy to identify: explore and exchange knowledge, stimulate higher levels of thought and consideration, foster connections between learners and their passions. However, how these objectives are realized and what they mean to the individual learner might muddy the waters, so to speak.

Everyone that will read this blog, at some level, is deeply interested in education. Many of us have spent the majority of our lives in the classroom (either learning, teaching, and in some cases daydreaming) and are pursing degrees to stay in the classroom -or the laboratory- with the goal of devoting our lives to the understanding, expansion, and sharing of knowledge. For us, education is our livelihood, our passion, and the lens with which we view the world around us. Obviously, our view of education is influenced by the high value we place in it.

I see education largely as a way of bettering myself and the community around me. Education leads to knowledge, and knowledge (through teaching) leads back to education. The implementation of knowledge with innovation enacts (hopefully positive) change.  The process and purpose is cyclical, fluid, ever changing and rooted in the intersection of learning, thinking, and sharing.

Then again, my purpose for education might be different than yours, and it might be different then someone not pursing a PhD or looking to devote their live to the pursuit of knowledge. For me, I think this is okay, and that the purpose of education (much like many of the concepts we applied in this course) can/should be shaped by the individual, and take on a person-centric purpose.

Maybe I wrong.

I admit I do not have anywhere close to all the answers, but I think the implication Seth Godin’s talk (which I did largely enjoy!) had, that there is a singular correct purpose, is somewhat disingenuous. From some, education can be based more in thinking, for others maybe it is more about learning (a skill, or a trade, or a technique that allows them to pursue a passion), or some combination of both. At early levels maybe it is about developing social skills, and the ability to communicate, interact with, and function in a civilized society. Should school’s purpose be stealing dreams and replacing them with interchangeable archetypes – as see by the industrial worker example? Certainly not, but maybe the impact school has in preparing young people to function in society, and exposing them to various perspectives of thought is just as important now as it has ever been.  My point is, education and school can take on a number of different purposes throughout our lives and there isn’t a singular, objectively correct approach to education and continuing to accept the assumption that there is will only lead to frustration – on the part of the educator, learner, and administrator.

There are certainly better ways to educate (especially on an individual level), and maybe even more noble purposes of education, but if we accept that education can be defined in a number of different ways we have to be willing to accept that other definitions may not perfectly align with our own. I think the goal of teaching should always be centered in creating an environmental that allows individuals to get out of education what they want, especially when the participants are old enough to identify what that is.

Shifting gears a bit…..  If the current model of school/education was designed around the need for interchanged industrial work, as Godin asserts, what does an education system look like designed around a society/economy built on automation and the replacement of ‘unskilled’ labor? How do you teach people to be smarter or more innovative?  When teaching people to be innovative is a notoriously difficult task?