the purpose of education

Posted by Debby on 24th January and posted in Innovation, Teaching and Learning



I got into a chat today that paralleled an ongoing conversation I’ve been having with someone else. As we were talking, I mentioned that I think most ed reformers missing out on asking a critical question, one that, when I first read it on a recent blog post, made me say “Yeah, that’s it!”. The Real Mr. Fitz said:

“In all of this education reform going on to improve our schools, the discussion we are not having is this: What are schools for? To create an obedient, pliable work force? To create a good economy? To make our test scores competitive with the rest of the world? Until we figure out that these purposes for schools are too shallow to serve, until we figure out what schools are for, everything we’ll do to “reform” education is likely to fail.”

She asked me what *I* thought the real purpose of education should be and I responded “to create learners because if people can learn how to learn, they can do anything that comes across their plate, even things that haven’t been invented yet.”

The million dollar question is… how do we do that in a way that is scalable? Can public education be reformed with that one goal in mind? What would it look like? I have some ideas, but so do lots of people. Where do we start?

Our conversation is below (btw, I did warn her this might become a blog post!):

RS: I learned today that UC Merced is offering the University of California’s first online class this semester–thought you would be interested

DK: Cool… I guess I didn’t realize that UC *didn’t* offer any online classes. Wonder what took them so long?

RS: Me too! They sent a survey around last semester to see what courses people would be interested in…I wouldn’t have thought Calculus would be the first choice, but I am glad we are finally moving in the direction of online instruction.

DK: From some of the stuff in the article, it looks like they are reinventing the wheel a bit… there’s lots of pedagogically sound examples to follow. Maybe they should talk to MIT and Stanford

RS: If they aren’t aware of the online programs provided by MIT and Stanford, students should be worried. Incidentally, I am super excited about MITx.

DK: It will be interesting to see how it goes. I keep seeing a couple of trends in education – free courses like MIT is doing and private, for-profit schools focused on certifications or specific outcomes. Giving the traditional non-profit schools something to think about.

RS: I am planning on obtaining some of the MITx certifications in between graduation and grad school–hoping it will show that I am still in the academic game no matter what job I get. I know that isn’t necessarily the purpose of the certifications, but it at least will lend credibility to work being done outside of a traditional classroom. It does make me wonder what “school” is going to mean in twenty years. I read the other day about an elementary school in Sweden that has no classrooms–no desks, just learning spaces where students can work together.

DK: One of the MAJOR questions NOT being asked in all of the school reform frenzy is “What is an education for? What is the purpose of an education?” Lots of people trying lots of things, but there is no unifying vision of the reason we even think it is important to have an education.

RS: True. What do you think the purpose of an education is?

DK: Hmmm… perhaps to create learners because if people can learn how to learn, they can do anything that comes across their plate, even things that haven’t been invented yet.

In high school, my computer class was learning how to program on an apple IIe. 10 years later I was working as a web designer part time, a job that didn’t exist when I was a senior in high school. Somewhere in there, I learned how to learn. that has taken me everywhere I’ve needed to go.

RS: I think I heard a graduation speech at one time or another about needing to be prepared for positions that don’t exist yet. I definitely agree that we have to be able to adapt to take best advantage of advances in technology…I have to admit-“just” playing with legos in your Robotics course has made a lot of the programming skills I’ve learned since much more intuitive.

DK: purposeful play… that’s what we called in at pepperdine. (this might just turn into a blog post!)

RS: I think I remember the phrase “hard fun” from you a few times. I have to run to class now.

  • Trudy

    Our eldest learned firsthand the purpose of education.  While serving a church mission in the Dominican Republic he discovered a large population of people who had never learned how to learn.  Official statistics indicate 85% of the population is functionally literate.  Apparently that’s not the reality.  Our son was really surprised to discover the difference education makes in being able to think analytically and reason.  He was actually saddened and humbled by the experience.

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