(#102) What is the Purpose of Education?

Craftsmen would not continue to use tired and worn out tools that keep them from creating a master product. Why would I do less for my students?

Another semester has ended. One of the rhythms that I love about teaching is that every four months I get to start again.  I have the opportunity to review and reflect upon what I have done and what I have accomplished. I give myself the opportunity to tweak, toss and create for an even better teaching and learning experience the next semester.

On a more philosophical level, I go back to simple questions:  Why do I do what I do? Why do I use the activities I use? Why do I teach the concepts I teach? Why do I use certain sequencing in class? Why do I use particular assessments and not others?  Craftsmen would not continue to use tired and worn out tools that keep them from creating a master product. Why would I do less for my students?

(Image at left: kookkai_nik/freedigitalphotos.net)

In short: What is my purpose in the classroom?

A couple of weeks ago (April 24, 2012) I posted the following question to my social media sites:

Is the purpose of higher education to prepare the student for employment or to prepare a better human being?

Here are some of the responses I received. While I have edited for brevity, I have done my best to maintain the integrity of the post:

  • I believe both, but it’s more to prepare a better human being; education just helps the process.
  • Better human beings definitely make better employees.
  • Employment. It’s up to the student to become a better human being.
  • ABC’s and 123’s. The state cannot teach morality. Whose moral code would they teach?
    • [Side note: I never mentioned whether the question pertained to public, private, or both types of schools.]
  • My Dad told me when I went off to college that what he wanted for me from college was to learn how to think… the hows and whys of the flow human existence and the Universe around us. This, I think, makes for individuals more prepared to understand themselves and the world. Employment skills can be learned later.
  • If we’re preparing for employment, why are vocational education types getting dropped from schools?
  • I think there must be a balance- some preparation for life and employment can be a part of life.  And certainly education should have a moral component. As a dramatic example, you must teach morals when you teach nuclear chemistry. But I think when education is performed in a proper manner it does help make a better human being.
  • A better human being—one who responds to nuance, expresses her ideas clearly in written form, cares about the world around her and has some idea of how it works, and thinks critically would make a pretty good employee.
  • Higher education should continue to build on skills previously learned, taking students beyond job training, which can be done anywhere, to a higher level of thinking, reasoning and analyzing; opening them up to considering how the world actually works, and what their place is in it.
  • This is a question that has been on my mind for a while…I wouldn’t trade my college experience for anything. It totally shaped the better person I am today. But I also believe that my experiences on the job would have done the same thing.
  • Education used to be for a better human being. But now a day it’s for employment. If there is no food on the table, people can’t decide what kind of a person they want to be. It’s like a dream to them.
  • Not sure it’s an either or kind of question really.
  • I hope it would be to turn out better human beings, rather than for gratification, privilege or hubris.

I loved reading the responses. In truth, I created a bit of a false (or contrived) dichotomy with my question.  I think it is difficult to separate the two: employment skills + a better human being.  Many of the so-called “soft skills” of education can make for a valued employee/citizen.  Critical thinking skills cut across all fields.  Civility must be practiced in all careers and in our communities. Information literacy is a practical and valuable skill in the workplace and at home.  And the person who can creatively confront a rapidly changing world will see opportunities where others see roadblocks. (An argument can be made that there is a difference in purpose when a student reaches graduate school.)

Video recommendation for the week:

You all have given me more to think about in my chosen career. Thanks!

Enjoy your week—and H.T.R.B. as needed!

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post. Please pass it (and any of the archived posts on this site) along to friends and colleagues. You can also follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. If you get a chance, visit my Facebook page and join in–or start–a conversation (www.facebook.com/stevepiscitelli). Also, if you have suggestions for future posts, leave a comment. Have a wonderful week!

© 2012. Steve Piscitelli and Steve Piscitelli’s Blog.


About stevepiscitelli

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3 Responses to (#102) What is the Purpose of Education?

  1. Pingback: (#136) A Blogger’s Retrospective: 2012 in Review « Steve Piscitelli's Blog

  2. trudee c says:

    education is really important to me.Coming from the Caribbean and attending school in america is a huge transformation.In my opinion the purpose of education is to prepare you for life,make you a better person,helps us become better thinkers and gets us ready for the workplace. with all the requirements needed to get a job now, without education that would be difficult to obtain. Education also challenges us to see what we are capable of and how much do we think we know. without education the world would be less than what it is today. new inventions and technology every other day, Education is very useful and powerful and i think we should make the most out of it.


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