It’s kinda hard to get somewhere if you don’t know where you’re going. Find a purpose, or you will wander aimlessly through life–fighting, but never knowing what against or what for. The heart needs something to desire. What is it the heart desires that rallies us to educate? What are we fighting for?
What does it mean to “have an education”?
Education is teaching and learning in a structured environment, and we spend a lot of time and money on it. If we are going to spend a lot of time and money doing something we better know why we’re doing it, because the quickest path to unhappiness is the path without purpose. Young students often wonder why they need to learn about a particular topic. It is unsurprising that they tend to dislike school more than adult students.
What should we tell young people is the purpose of education?
When confronted with this question, teachers give four basic answers: 1) to teach morals and values, 2) to encourage political action, 3) to make money, and 4) to promote love for learning or the advancement of knowledge. The moral reason is expressed as contributing to society, being caring and compassionate, or being capable of living in society. The political reason is expressed as becoming good citizens or participating in democracy. The financial reason is expressed as finding a job. The intellectual reason is given, I believe, as an attempt to get students to be happy at school. All these reasons are united by one principle, a universal desire unbound by time or space, age or sex, religion or politics: the desire for power over one’s own life.
THE PURPOSE OF EDUCATION is to empower young people with the increasing ability to make their own choices.
We all want this ability. From the time of toddlerhood when we tell our parents “no” to everything, to the time of old age when a paid professional helps us around, we never lose that craving to be masters of our own selves. If we cannot control our own lives, then someone with greater power will do it for us. [Read more]
Controlling your life involves choosing your destination. But, it’s kinda hard to get there if you don’t know the direction, distance, and method of travel. Develop a strategy, or you will be perpetually frustrated–helpless–never knowing what it is you’re doing wrong. But you know you need to focus. The mind needs to be stimulated, balancing contemplation and calculation. By using our minds we can plan how to get to where we want to be.
The purpose of education is to empower young people with the ability to make these choices. Choices come with challenges that foster growth, and the growth is fostered where there is learning. Therefore, the path of education must be laid with learning challenges that will enable young people to choose and govern their own lives.
These learning challenges–the skills developed and the knowledge acquired–are to be relevant to every student regardless of race, sex, religion, politics, culture, or intelligence, because the greater the number of irrelevant challenges provided, the greater the number of students who will be bored and graduate high school unable to make quality decisions. Relevant learning challenges are the only challenges that will ensure their path has purpose.
THERE ARE FIVE LEARNING CHALLENGES EVERY PERSON in every culture in every time period must be opportuned with experiencing: how to communicate, understanding health of the human body, how to do basic math, discovering how to think critically, and how to manage emotions. With these challenges, you will never again have to tell a young person, “You’ll need to know this when you’re older”.
They will benefit from knowing these now.
How to Communicate
Communication is the foundation of any relationship. It permits others to know who we are and what we want. When guided by an enlightened heart it can bind together, but when guided by a darkened heart it can tear asunder.
Teachers want to guide students how to communicate so they have the power to choose and manage their own relationships, their own thoughts, and their own feelings.
There are several forms of communication that can be self-taught or learned through experience. Having a teacher may be useful when learning about body language or photography, but a teacher is not necessary. However, a teacher is for all intents and purposes necessary when learning to read and write.
Teaching how to read and write–and type–is the most important role of the teacher because reading is the most pragmatic method of receiving communication and writing is the most pragmatic method of giving communication. They are means of communication used by practically everyone, allowing us to share ourselves and learn from one another anywhere, anyplace, anytime, about nearly anything. Reading is the most effective method of exercising control over what we learn. It is a skill that can never be possessed in excess, and should be part of literally all instruction.
Everyone has a body, so everyone should have some understanding of managing their health. This requires learning about food and nutrition, physical activity, first aid and CPR, and medicines (“medicines” are anything useful for treating illness). Being healthy helps us feel good, attract romantic partners, get hired, manage stress, reduce healthcare costs and make informed medical decisions.
The young may lack wisdom that comes from experience, but they are smart enough to know that they will probably never, ever, ever need to use algebra.
The most common use for math is managing money. All students should be proficient in calculating expenses, income and savings, and most students should be capable of analyzing investment options.
A lot of people hate math. As a teacher you want to associate math with something students already like, and every student likes money. A teacher might be thinking, “But I don’t want to promote consumerism!”. OK, then don’t promote it. You’re the one in charge of instruction, but your students will be in charge of their lives, and they will need to understand the use of money.
Usefulness of other forms of math is highly variable. But, we know from experience that we find ourselves in situations wherein we unexpectedly need some basic math skills.
How we think (and feel) determines how we behave, how we interact with other people, how we pursue our own happiness. Thinking critically requires discipline, perseverance, and the humility to change our minds. It is done with the intention of reaching a goal; solving a problem; creating a technology, medicine, or system; belief system, framework, perspective or worldview.
It is adding and subtracting information, and organizing and reorganizing information until we create a coherent and self-consistent method of getting what we want. Read more
The consequence of not thinking critically is not reaching one’s goal, resulting in confusion, frustration, anger, arguing rather than debating, or lack of scientific or technological progress.
Teaching science and philosophy is the best method for helping young people discover and practice critical thought. However, scientific and philosophical ideas change, meaning the purpose of teaching science and philosophy is not to teach what to think, not even teach how to think, but to guide youths towards learning on their own how to think critically. (read more: my science article)
By thinking critically we can engineer a life filled with purpose, because life devoid of purpose is no life at all.
Our feelings mobilize our thoughts–about ourselves, about others, about how to treat ourselves and others, about how to master obstacles and secure the life we want. We have the innate ability to shepherd our feelings. As with language, we must learn how to animate this ability. Failure results in having no goal, resulting in stasis, blame, arguing rather than discussing, and lack of social progress.
Feelings are perceived as threats to reason only by those who have not learned to manage theirs.
The power to manage our feelings is the power to control our selves, and power to control our selves is the power to direct our relationships with others, both personal and professional.
You don’t like the way education is operating, but you can fix it.
Education is one of the greatest gifts we can give to one another. Learning how to be in charge of one’s life is a blessing, and, after critical thought and quiet reflection you can decide for yourself whether and to what extent you agree with anything I have told you.
Even with this purpose of education in mind, we still know there isn’t anything not worth learning. Every topic and skill not mentioned here can provide some value to someone. But, only those discussed here are useful for everyone regardless of race, sex, religion, politics, culture, or intelligence. Every student will know why they need to learn how to communicate, how to care for their bodies, how to do basic math, how to think critically, and how to manage their emotions. These are either impossible or immensely difficult for young people to teach themselves; when you teach these to students, they will know why they need you. If you plan to teach something that they can learn on their own–okay–but remember that your time with your students is limited. Neither of you will ever get it back.