Why do we educate?

by Beth Knittle on November 1, 2009

What is the purpose and role of Education in Society?

When we talk about education do we all hold a similar definition?  Do we all have the same goals for education?  Often in taking with parents, teachers, administrators and local politicians I often get the feeling we are not talking about the same thing.  What do you expect from education? What do you wish for your children?  Do you see education divided into two areas formal schooling and self-directed learning?

The following are the some rather provocative thoughts  to get you thinking.

John Dewey:
“Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is, not a preparation for life; education is life itself.”

“It is our American habit if we find the foundations of our educational structure unsatisfactory to add another story or wing. We find it easier to add a new study or course or kind of school than to recognize existing conditions so as to meet the need.”

“The school must be made into a social center capable of participating in the daily life of the community . . . and make up in part to the child for the decay of dogmatic and fixed methods of social discipline and for the loss of reverence and the influence of authority.”

Horace Mann:
“A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering on cold iron. ”

“Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.”

John Ruskin:
“The entire object of true education, is to make people not merely do the right thing, but to enjoy right things; not merely industrious, but to love industry; not merely learned, but to love knowledge.”

Robert M  Hutchins
“Education is not to reform students or amuse them or to make them expert technicians. It is to unsettle their minds, widen their horizons, inflame their intellects, teach them to think straight, if possible.”

Benjamin Franklin:
“The good Education of Youth has been esteemed by wise Men in all Ages, as the surest Foundation of the Happiness both of private Families and of Common-wealths. Almost all Governments have therefore made it a principal Object of their Attention, to establish and endow with proper Revenues, such Seminaries of Learning, as might supply the succeeding Age with Men qualified to serve the Publick with Honour to themselves, and to their Country.”

Henry Giroux:
“We want to argue that part of the growing crisis in public education centers around the declining competence of students and others to effectively interrogate and communicate ideational content. In other words, in jeopardy is not merely the ability of students to be creative, but the very capacity for conceptual thought itself. Moreover, since democratic social, cultural, and political forms depend on a self-motivated and autonomous public, the precondition for which is critical thinking, the crisis at hand may be the very survival of democracy itself.”

Mass Readiness Final Report
“Despite quantum leaps in academic rigor, our existing education system is not adequately preparing every student for success in life and work. As a source of workers, it doesn’t meet the needs of employers. As a public investment, it doesn’t deliver the return it should for taxpayers. Most importantly, as an entry point to the American dream, it remains too selective. All too often, a student’s chances for success are determined not by her intellect or ability to learn, but by her ZIP code and circumstances beyond her control.”

Barack Obama
“We’ll invest in early childhood education programs so that our kids don’t begin the race of life behind the starting line and offer a $4,000 tax credit to make college affordable for anyone who wants to go. Because as the NAACP knows better than anyone, the fight for social justice and economic justice begins in the classroom.”

Thomas Jefferson
“Educate and inform the whole mass of the people.  Enable them to see that it is their interest to preserve peace and order, and they will preserve them.  And it requires no very high degree of education to convince them of this.  They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” –Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1787.

“A system of general instruction, which shall reach every description of our citizens from the richest to the poorest, as it was the earliest, so will it be the latest of all the public concerns in which I shall permit myself to take an interest.”  –Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, 1818.

Mark Twain
I never let my schooling interfere with my education ( this is attributed to Mark Twain)

Lev Vygotsky:
“Learning is more than the acquisition of the ability to think; it is the acquisition of many specialised abilities for thinking about a variety of things.”

There are quite a few good ones here I particularly like Albert Einstein’s quote “It is nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not entirely strangled the holy curiosity of enquiry.”

Please feel free to share you views on the role of education. My views are still evolving but for a pretty good reflection of my current understading please see the following posts This I believe and  The Purpose of Education .

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Melissa Savage November 4, 2009 at 8:56 pm

I read your previous post titled The Purpose of Education after reading this post. First, we need to come to the conclusion that each of us has our own take on the role of education. The reason for this is simple: we each come from different backgrounds and cultures. The gentleman you talked to obviously has a completely different outlook on life than you or myself do.
I agree with you in that we need to produce creative members of society that are prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. The challenges we are faced with today are not tomorrow’s challenges: they will be greater. Technology is the driving force. It allows us to do different things rather than just doing things differently.
We, as educators, need to continually educate ourselves so that we can, in turn, educate the future generations and produce more than just workers.

Joel Zehring November 7, 2009 at 5:24 pm

Beth:
Great quotes. A quote I return to over and over is by William Butler Yeats: “Education is not the filling of a pail, it is the lighting of a fire.”

Have you read “The End of Education” by Neil Postman? He suggests that Americans must decide what “god” we want education to serve. He also suggests several interesting purposes for our public school system.

Melissa:
I disagree on two points. First, agreeing to disagree on the purpose of education is counter-productive at best. I feel that despite our differences, we need to arrive at a unifying vision that defines the main role of education in this country, at least among educators and policy-makers. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Second, technology does not drive. Technology accelerates. Purpose, wisdom, disciplined thought, and disciplined action will drive us to success and renewed prosperity. Technology simply speeds up the consequences of our actions.

Melissa Savage November 8, 2009 at 6:27 pm

Joel,
The comment I made about each of us having our own take on the role of education is, in my opinion, a true statement because I was speaking of every human being, not just those in this field or policy-makers. There will always be those who never have anything good to say about education. We recognize these individuals and strive to change their attitude.
I do agree with you, however, that we, as educators, need to strive to reach the same goals, to have that unified vision of which you spoke.
I appreciate your outlook on technology. After reading your post, I realize that my outlook is similiar to yours. I did not at all do a good job of explaining it. I now realize that technology is not the driver, it just helps us to get there.
Reading the posts of others is so rewarding. Thank you for taking the time to respond and to get me thinking. That is part of what being a life long learner is all about.

Robyn November 8, 2009 at 8:13 pm

Hi Beth,
I found your website while searching online for someone who has a blog about technology in the classroom. I love the layout and quotes! I am only in my third class towards earning a master’s degree in intergrating thechnology into the classroom. Currently I teach visual arts for students in grades kindergarten through fifth. Thanks for letting me browse your site and I will be in touch!
Robyn

Beth Knittle November 9, 2009 at 1:22 pm

Joel and Melissa,

I really appreciate your comments. I think that as parents and individuals we all have a vision of what we want for ourselves and our children when it comes to learning. But as an organization, public education is often pulling in different, sometimes counter productive directions. I often wonder “Who’s driving the bus?”

I have been struggling with the idea that technology is a driving force or is just a tool. I tend to waffle on this one from time to time. But watching my children I think that (for today any way) we really are just doing the same thing, but technology provides greater access, speed and audience.

My son can not draw but paint programs allow him to express himself artistically. My daughter loves to tell stories, she can now write and share them with greater ease. She can even turn them into movies. I believe it is essential that we provide our students the access to technology and the skills to use these powerful. They have provided an opportunity or my children to develop a greater depth and breath of their understanding and potential then they would have acquired without them.

Beth Knittle November 9, 2009 at 1:25 pm

Hi Robyn,

Welcome, stop by any time. I wish you well in your continued schooling, and glad to see you are out and about on the web, connecting with other educators. Take time to build your learning network, I have found mine quite invaluable.

Robyn November 11, 2009 at 9:03 pm

Hi Beth!
Thanks for responding so quickly. I am learning a lot as I persue my degree and really thinking about the affect that technology truly has on my students. Currently in my studies we are looking at which comes first, a unit of technology that is developed to meet a need for society or society having a need that must be must by the invention of technology. I would love to know your thoughts or anyone else’s as well. I have definitely looked at this from all different angles.
Thanks! Robyn

Henry November 13, 2009 at 8:54 pm

Beth this is a very interesting post. I like some of the points in the comments. Melissa said, “…we need to produce creative members of society that are prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.” I think that is a great point. As far as that relates to technology, I appreciate the schools that are embracing it and using it for children early in age. Many private schools in Palm Beach County (where I’m from) are beginning to utilize advanced technology in the classrooms, along with teaching students how to use it at early ages. Technology is a major part of the world’s progress and our children need to be properly prepared.

Thanks,

Henry
Private Schools Palm Beach

Amy November 15, 2009 at 11:05 pm

Hi Beth,
I really enjoyed reading your blog, especially the quotes were very clever! I am currently studying to be an Early Childhood Education teacher and I just have a question for learning purposes. Technology is not something that is used much at the preschool and kindergarten levels so I have not worked with it with children much. It seems right now from my experiences that the children I have worked with are very motivated to learn and are constantly wanting to know more. Once I get into the later grades, I’m worried that this passion will lessen. How do we keep students motivated to learn throughout the year and their education career? Is technology possibly a solution? Please write back.

Thank you!
Amy

Beth Knittle November 16, 2009 at 4:48 am

Hi Amy,

Wow if you could answer “How do we keep students motivated to learn throughout the year and their education career?” we would be in a lot better shape. I find that motivation in students can be fostered or dampened by many sources; parents, friends, teachers, and media to name a few. A good teacher will recognize these influences and find ways to encourage a student’s desire and passion for learning and guide them in the direction that keeps that interest alive.

Is technology possibly a solution? Technology is a tool, and like all tools they are only as good as the craftsman who wields them. You can use a computer for ‘drill and kill’ and bore a student or you can use it to help connect a student to an expert in their favorite subject a thousand miles away. Older students use tech all the time in their daily lives, taking the tech away during the learning process can hinder learning. It would be like taking a pen and paper away from me in my early schooling.

Amy November 20, 2009 at 12:10 pm

Thank you! Very helpful blog. You’re advice is poweful and I agree, technology is our world today. We use technology in absolutely everything we do and not only would our students not know what to do without it, but neither would we as teachers. Keeping our students motivated I guess depends on the group of students we have and it it the teacher’s job to facilitate their interests and learning with the short time we have with them. I am just hoping I’ll be able to know my students well enough to facilitate their learning.

Colin December 13, 2009 at 2:52 pm

Technology is rarely an end in itself – especially in education, but the tendency to justify and then adapt “the latest and greatest” is hard to avoid. With continuous societal and political pressure to improve education, technology becomes an easy choice that can be sold. That said, any glance at technology’s role in our high-paced business world reveals interesting changes: the role and importance of the secretary has changed radically, as have changes in our postal and banking system, to name a few. These significant changes are technology driven and their effects on education cannot be taken lightly. Pencil and paper as instruments of communication have changed, as have their importance for instruction. Word processing and emailing (sp) are now the “best practice” for these important activities, although reading and spelling skill are still required for success.
My vote is for “appropriate, cost-effective technology” for now. With a view of aligning our instructional methods with our community goals, the choices become more evident for prudent educators.

Beth Knittle January 3, 2010 at 4:47 pm

I could not agree more, appropriate, cost- effective technology. We must make sure what we use is relevant to student needs and instructional objectives, the focus most always be on the students.

Kim Wright January 10, 2010 at 2:10 pm

I think the bottom line for us, as educators, is to teach our students how to think for themselves. Of course we need to attempt to keep up with technology and how to effectively integrate it into our classrooms as an ongoing process. However, we must also not forget the importance of the good, old-fashioned brain. It is repulsive to me, for example, that some elementary schools focus on teaching a child how to use a calculator BEFORE teaching them the basic skills of arithimetic. Some students can program a GPS but can’t read a map. This is another example of how we fail these students by only focusing on technology.

I had a teachable moment in an 11th grade American Lit class recently. Students were working on essays for The Crucible and one student said aloud “there’s a lot more going on here than you realize at first. You’ve really got to read between the lines.” I explained to her that it wasn’t so much that she graduates next year with the full knowledge of a particular piece of literature or time period, but that she is able to apply the skills learned in analyzing them to her professional life. She looked at me dumbfoundedly and said that no teacher had ever explained that to her. They always answered the “why do we have to read this” question with “because it’s in the curriculum” or similar responses.

Caroline Bryson April 18, 2010 at 8:54 pm

In my opinion I believe that there are several purposes for education. On a base level it is our responsibility as educators to prepare the youth to be productive and function in society. What I mean by this is that not everyone is capable of winning a Nobel prize in physics. We need to be able to educate children to be able to earn a productive living at a bare minimum. Many parents and students do not look at education this way. Their goal is just to do just enough to get a degree with as little effort as possible.

On the other hand we need to make education interesting and challenging for those that want to learn. We need to peak their interests and challenge them. In my opinion the “No Child Left Behind” should be called no child gets ahead. We are holding back the children that can excel to the bare minimum that those that can’t can do. I believe that this is a result of our current society. We award everyone on a team with a trophy just for participating. There are no awards anymore for being the best and no reason to do so. We need to break this cycle and make the politicians realize that we still need as much money for the gifted children as we do for the special needs.

Pat January 29, 2013 at 10:51 am

One would think that reflecting on their own lives, people would recognize that education for its own sake is infinitely more useful than the chaos of ignorance, despite the earnings potential it may afford.

If that isn’t enough, it takes little effort to explain the numbers of innovation, and life progress made through educating others, and oneself. It is the epitome of the origin of hope, and it’s role in life.

The big question these days is whether education, or how much education, is worth becoming a debt slave for. That places a premium on education sufficient to convert it into a commodity, rather than personal development. There is a huge difference!

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