The Purpose of Education

by Beth Knittle on July 12, 2008

I was driving from the Cape to NJ today and had an interesting conversation while at a McDonald’s along 95. Not sure how it got started, we were exchanging pleasantries and such and it turned to what we did (he is a retired accountant, I am an educator) and it then turned to education. And did he have an opinion of education!

“The purpose of education is to produce workers.” I suggested that it is an outcome of education but not the sole purpose of education.  I told him that “I believe that education is more than that. If we just produce workers we would stagnate as a society. We need to foster a variety of skills, talents and creativity.” I was told that was a lot of malarkey in a less then polite manner. I continued, “society changes over time, we need people who are able to change, adapt and invent if we are to continue to move forward and grow.” The conversation went downhill from there. Those of you who have met me face to face know I am pretty low key. I was not up for the debate, just wanted my lunch and to get back on the road, but it did get me thinking.

He, in my thinking, saw education at its most basic; give people enough education so they can get a job and not be a burden on society. He did not see that education can also elevate a society. If we only shoot for the base we will never reach the top. As educators we realize education’s role is more then producing workers (see tweets and plurks below). We see it as very complex but vital to our society’s continued success. We are passionate about change and improving education for all, but if his thoughts on education, JUST to produce workers, is prevalent then we can see why the general populace are not up in arms about the need for better, richer education of our children.

I believe that education in whatever form (public, private, formal and informal) is to bring out the best in the individual, to aid each of us in reaching our FULL potential. Education is more then just academic and testing success, as we currently stress, but includes the development of reasoning, creativity, talents among other things.

Many of you are more eloquent then I on this matter please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Here are some thoughts from ‘the network’.

Poll: is the production of an educated workforce the purpose or by product of education?

Plurk: Link to responses

Twitter: The following are some twitter response. Not sure how best to show them so I just copied. (Link to screen shot of the tweets) Twitter responses are best read bottom to top.

ClareLane @glad2be So now we test how well we have taught what we do not value.” Art Costa

ClareLane @glad2be “What was once educationally significant, but difficult to measure, has been replaced by what is insignificant and easy to measure.

Tom_Turner @bknittle which leads hopefully to successful, educated responsible members of society

Tom_Turner @bknittle imo I view my role as educator as a facilitator in educating my students to be empowered in their education.

glad2be @bknittle now ed has skewed focus: passing a test.

glad2be @bknittle original ed was to enhance quality of life,through cultural,scientific awareness & employability

WendyDrexler @bknittle If done well, both. Not the only purpose though. Might add good citizen, moral being, problem solver, prep for uni, etc.

glad2be @bknittle sounds like a good blog question

bknittle @smartinez I think in theory ’cause practice SHOULD come from theory.

smartinez @bknittle re: poll. in theory or in practice?

Riptide_Furse @bknittle I always thought it was to produce successful members in society. We are preparing students for jobs that don’t exist yet.

bknittle @Tom_Turner not sure they are the same. If the sole purpose then we just make workers, I think education is more. Sorting my thoughts out now

Tom_Turner @bknittle wouldn’t it be considered both?

glad2be @bknittle the answer is yes 🙂

Please add your thoughts below.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Lori July 13, 2008 at 9:26 am

Beth- don’t sell yourself short, you were very eloquent and very patient in your conversations with the gentleman. This is huge. Many communities have school boards and leaders who don’t understand the need for change in education. There is the mentality “the education I had was good enough for me”, so it should just be the basics. There are many who just see the need to make sure their kids can get jobs. They don’t understand that we are preparing our kids for many jobs that don’t exist yet, that there are problems that will need to be solved, and we need future leaders who can help solve those problems. We need creative, independent thinkers that can sift through all the information and be prepared for their future.

A. Gayden February 5, 2011 at 6:12 pm

Beth,

The purpose of education is to educate all students and give everyone the opportunity as means to succeed in life and through knowledge and skill, all individuals can achieve greatness. Also it is only fair that everyone, regardless of race and ethnic background, should also have an equal opportunity to have a successful life. You also made a good point to the man.

Beth Knittle February 6, 2011 at 7:03 am

I agree that we should all have equal opportunity to an education, to learn, though we can not guarantee equal outcome. Thankfully we are all not the same and have different gifts, talents, and interests. I struggle with what defines equal opportunity and what defines education. Once upon a time education was defined by “reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic.” Now it can contain a whole lot more content, process and tools.

Brooke April 6, 2015 at 5:17 pm

I personally think the purpose of education does not only lies in the benefit of having a successful and more fulfilled life, but the teaching of moral values and cooperative behaviours is also crucial on the course of one’s pursuit in self-realisation.

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