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?

17 Replies to “What is the purpose(s) of education?”

  1. I like your post, thank you. I agree with you that (perhaps after high school) we all continue our education for different reasons. You said it best here:
    “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.”

  2. I definitely agree! Instructors are increasingly trying to push us to learn everything that they feel we should learn in a class. Now that I am in grad school, I am better able to determine what I want out of a course. It is difficult to have this mentality while taking an undergrad course as a grad student because professors often assign busy work for the purpose of busy work and not for the purpose of learning. I think this comes from a place of distrust on the part of the professor and them forgetting that these students are here because they want to learn something. If professors remember that, then we can have a healthier learning environment and a more symbiotic relation between student and teacher.

  3. Having taken a longish break between my undergraduate and my current pursuit of graduate school has really helped me know where my knowledge exists and where its limited. Your post really resonated with me, in particular; “The process and purpose is cyclical, fluid, ever changing and rooted in the intersection of learning, thinking, and sharing.”
    It’s important to remind ourselves learning is a lifelong endeavor, and when we are able to teach students to tap into their curiosities, they can discover their passions that will keep them motivated to learn, think and share.

  4. Very interesting point about the fluidity of not only the purposes but also the means and ways of education. Why people pursue knowledge is far more complex thing that can be categorized and the best hope is to help students ask themselves this question at least once and to recognize that even then, their answer might change as they experience it. Hopefully, the system gives them enough autonomy to self-direct some of what they believe is the ideal education for them.

  5. I definitely agree that there isn’t any objectively superior or right way of providing education, and I think that a lot of these discussions sometimes loses focus of that. It should be predicated on assisting the learners but merely replacing one mode of education with another singular mode of education is likely to falter in the long run for many of the same issues that the current “traditional” practices do.

  6. Great post, thank you for sharing this. I really like what you said, and that makes me to compare between the different educational environment back home (Saudi Arabia) where I got my undergrad and here in the United States where I am doing my PhD. So, here I can see what is the purpose of the education.

    Good touch.

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