Thursday, August 30, 2007


A discussion with a friend about the purposes of education has my mind whirling and googling. Reconsidering the meaning and purpose of education is timely. This time of year, I begin getting questions about what curricula we are using and when do we "start", meaning when do we formally being schooling. Truthfully, I don't consider that we ever "school", rather we "live" and learning takes place inside that framework. As the friend told an acquaintance, "we never stopped" learning.

Many consider education a means to prepare a child "for the real world" in which we live. Likely, this means the ability to function in a democracy and get a job supporting a family. Yet, as this website pointed out, for all the educated people in the world, we've not been so hot at being good stewards of the Earth and that in many cases, our ability to produce technology outpaces our ability to use it responsibly.

I highlight the following passages for consideration:

Finally, I would like to propose that the way learning occurs is as important as the content of particular courses. Process is important for learning. Courses taught as lecture courses tend to induce passivity. Indoor classes create the illusion that learning only occurs inside four walls isolated from what students call without apparent irony the "real world." Dissecting frogs in biology classes teaches lessons about nature that no one would verbally profess. Campus architecture is crystallized pedagogy that often reinforces passivity, monologue, domination, and artificiality. My point is simply that students are being taught in various and subtle ways beyond the content of courses.


Fifth, there is a myth that the purpose of education is that of giving you the means for upward mobility and success. Thomas Merton once identified this as the "mass production of people literally unfit for anything except to take part in an elaborate and completely artificial charade." When asked to write about his own success, Merton responded by saying that "if it so happened that I had once written a best seller, this was a pure accident, due to inattention and naiveté, and I would take very good care never to do the same again." His advice to students was to "be anything you like, be madmen, drunks, and bastards of every shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success."

The plain fact is that the planet does not need more "successful" people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every shape and form. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these needs have little to do with success as our culture has defined it.

Still thinking and learning - Junosmom

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