Why go to school?

What is the goal, or end, of education?

The Greeks believed that education had a moral element to it. Part of this stemmed from the Ancient Greek preoccupation with reason. In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle propounds the idea that a virtue, in essence, is a characteristic that allows a certain object or entity to better perform its function or purpose. Aristotle also believed that reason was a characteristic unique to humans, and, in fact, was the primary distinguishing characteristic between humans and animals. It makes sense, then, that education would be of utmost importance. Education helps us be more reasonable, and, thus, to be better people, at the same time enhancing whatever other virtuous traits we have.

Whatever you believe about the Greek fixation with reason, I find their purpose for education to be far more noble than what our current society sees as being the goal for education.

I've had this conversation with students in my classes before, it goes something like this:

Me: "So, if you guys hate this so much, then why are you here?"

At this point, there is usually a long, engaged discussion about personal choices. They see themselves as being FORCED to be in school. I try to point out to them that no one FORCES them to be in school. They simply see it as being more desireable than the alternatives. If they left, and were under a certain age, they could get in trouble with the authorities. Those that are old enough to avoid this would get in trouble with their folks. But this doesn't take away from the fact that, every day, students DO choose to drop out and do something else, and that, for whatever reason, the students I'm talking with have chosen NOT to do this. Those that understand this eventually move on to the following portion of the discussion.

Student: "We're here because we need to get an education."
Me: "But why?"
Student: "Because we need to get good grades so we can get into a good university."
Me: "Why does it matter that you get into a good university."
Student: "Because I want to eventually have a good job." (Mind you that, every response that is given is made with the tone of "Duh, you idiot... everyone knows this. Why are you asking me such obvious questions?")
Me: "Why do you need a good job?"
Student: "So we can make enough money to be comfortable."

I run into this conversation or the intuitive mindset behind it all the time. Frankly, I'm being nice by putting the word "comfortable" there at the end, because, in actuality, few students use that word. Most of them say what many think but are mature enough to not allow to escape their lips. They say they need that money to be happy (!). A few understand what they've just said as the words leave their mouths.

This is what we've trained students to believe is the goal of education: The Almighty Dollar- the Bling.

Parents reinforce this idea a lot.

But, as with most things, it isn't just parents. It's our whole system. It's no secret that schools hold up as a sign of prestige how much scholarship money has been offered to students who are graduating from their institution. So not only can studying hard translate to bigger bucks when you get out of university, SAVING money is the best known reason for maintaining grades in high school.

But it runs even deeper than this. Conventional wisdom is telling us (through all the talking heads and pundits) that the job market is screaming for more engineers and computer programmers and the like, and we'd better provide them, or gloomy things await us in the future. So what do we do? Like lemmings, we give this "job market" exactly what its experts say it is demanding.

Aristotle would be spinning.

I do not believe that the proper purpose of educating kids is to prepare them for the "job market". You educate kids because it is the perfect time to instill in them a sense of identity, guide them toward wisdom, and teach them that life should be embraced experientially/ spiritually, and intellectually (to be honest, I'd settle for having them do the former, and I know plenty of people who, while they don't bury themselves in books, revel in taking life in. Unfortunately, many of the kids I work with do neither).

In Neil Postman's book, The End of Education he claims that the mythological stories, the ones that most societies have used to pass down a sense of identity and a moral foundation to its kids, is sorely lacking in our educational system. Let me tell you what to think instead of teaching you how to think. We misrepresent what we give them as being "pure, unadulterated facts" and encourage them NOT to think about it in the methods we use. I couldn't agree more. The only thing that we have given them to chase is a life of comfort. And what did Jesus say about all this...

"You can't worship two gods at once.
Loving one god, you'll end up hating the other.
Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other.
You can't worship God and Money both."

In my mind, it's no wonder that our kids don't see any purpose behind our educational system, and that only those who are truly internally motivated or those who have developed a healthy respect for "following the rules" really seem to be driven.

Maybe I'm too much of an idealist, but I firmly believe that if you give a kid a good understanding of how the world works, and how he or she fits into it, a sense of wonder at the majesty and compassion of God, as well as the skills to be able to find, process, and use information, that by the time they're eighteen, they will be capable of mastering anything that a university or employer will throw at them, and have a healthier self-image, destiny and sense of proportion to boot.

I often tell my students to settle for a lesser grade in favor of a better education.

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