What is the purpose of education? This week, I have chosen to visit the foundational question in education, one that I believe should be revisited more often. In a world that has gotten so caught up in "common core" curriculum, standardized testing, and rigorous academic expectations, it is important to go back to the basics and ask ourselves, what are we doing? And why are we doing it? What do we want our kids to gain from their educational experience? Put simply, what is the purpose of education?
Not only does the answer to this question directly impact the social, emotional, and academic well-being of our students, staff, and community at large, it is indicative of the future of our civilization, and the values of our society as a whole. This question merits continuous reflection as it manifests itself in the cornerstone of our identity as a nation, how we are shaping our young, and how we are preparing them to live and lead in the future. The following quotes reveal what some of the past and present leaders in the educational arena have to say about the purpose of education.
John Dewey postulated, “The purpose of education has always been to every one, in essence, the same—to give the young the things they need in order to develop in an orderly, sequential way into members of society" (1934).
According to the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education” (1948).
Educator and philosopher, Mortimore Adler, stated the purpose of education is, "The development of citizenship, personal growth or self-improvement, and occupational preparation" (1982).
Timothy Shriver and Jennifer Buffett wrote, "The purpose of education is to invite students to become engaged with great ideas and experiences that can in turn help them discover their own great ideas and purpose" (2015).
Sir Ken Robinson stated, "Education is a system in the sense that it’s organized on a grand scale, but it manifests itself every day in the actions and reactions of living people...It manifests itself as relationships and feelings and achievements" (2018).
As you have read, the purpose of education has evolved over the years. From Dewey's practical promulgation of the orderly, sequential development of members of society, to the incorporation of character by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to the incorporation of personal growth and self-improvement by Adler, to the exposure to great ideas that in turn spark discovery of ones' own great ideas and overall purpose, to Sir Ken Robinson's idea that the system of education is defined by the day to day actions, reactions and relationships of all stakeholders. The integration and evolution of social and emotional character development has given new breath and depth to purpose of education.
As a major proponent and advocate of SEL, I believe the purpose of education is a blend of all the above mentioned responses. We must not overlook the "uncommon" core of SEL while so intently focusing on the "common" core. Students must be taught the SEL competency of Self-Awareness so that they may discover who they are at their very core, and use that knowledge to achieve self-actualization.
In closing, one thing is certain, the collaboration of schools, families, and communities is a pivotal factor in the development of a healthy and just society. I will venture to say that perhaps more important than defining what is deemed the "correct" answer to the question, is the rich conversation that results from asking it.