Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Purpose of Education


I have been thinking about the suggestion to focus on individualized instruction and adaptive learning. I am concerned about how education is being conceptualized by those in power and those with money – it seems that those with either nearly always want more. Anyway, higher education in this country began with the British wanting those in the colonies to be able to perform basic accounting and bookkeeping functions – implies teaching arithmetic, writing and reading. Given my poor historical sense of things, I think of education being aimed at something beyond making those with money and power richer and more powerful.

While my understanding of history is very limited, I have read some things by or about Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, Spinoza and others. I find their thoughts more in line with my own thinking that education is about realizing the uniqueness of being human – being  a self-conscious deliberator struggling with understanding who we are, the world around us, and why we are here. I know … three strikes and I am out. I am not sure who I am (teacher occasionally, writer off and on, father … always on) … I understand very little of the world in which I am living (especially given the unreality show now playing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue) … and why or how what I regard as a series of accidental choices and arbitrary decisions have led me to where I am now.

I recall Tolstoy’s Confession – especially Chapter IV (involving an Eastern fable; see http://www.classicallibrary.org/tolstoy/confession/4.htm) … and the last sentence in Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus (“one must imagine Sisyphus happy" – I still do not get it) and Nietzsche’s critique of Socrates (see http://www.inp.uw.edu.pl/mdsie/Political_Thought/twilight-of-the-idols-friedrich-neitzsche.pdf - the value of life cannot be estimated by the living as they are an interested party and not by the dead for a different reason).

What to do? Perhaps as my father and others have suggested – do what you can to bring out the best in others – what they regard as their best … not what is best for you but what is best for them by their own estimation.

The purpose of education is not to serve the economic engine of a society. Robots will do that much better that we are able to do anyway. The purpose of education is to become better at being human … becoming more than we have been … not gaining more wealth or power or helping others do that … but gaining more understanding of the changes that make being human an interesting occupation.

Higher education fails when lower minds take control. I thought the 1960s and early 1970s were bad … at least we had the GI bill back then helping to keep the ship of reason afloat.

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