Introduction: The Purpose of Education
All conscious educators wrestle with the problem of defining the purpose of education. Throughout history educationalists, parents, philosophers, teachers and students have identified numerous agreed upon education values. Priorities often include; personal/academic development, economic stability, social cohesion, individual fulfilment, productivity, career development, global citizenship and society formation. All of these, of course are valid values of education and are prioritised differently according to different approaches.
Often neglected however, is the rigorous development of a larger purpose of education to which all these values contribute. From a developmental or evolutionary perspective, the world is not static but changing and thus the purpose of education may also change over time. Therefore, I believe that to begin to construct a purpose for education we must first ask some form of the following preliminary questions.
What is the current essential contribution of education in the larger arch of human history? What roles should education play in the continued development of humanity in the world?
These questions require us to examine our ways of making sense of the world, our individual and collective roles in the continued creation of the world, as well as our values and ideas of the world we want to create, live in and pass on. For the conscious educator this impacts all levels of education design and practice.
For example, our answers may call into question whether it is appropriate for education to prepare students to thrive in the current and projected future systems (social, economic, political etc.) if these contradict our values and ideas for a more sustainable future. Instead, education may be needed to contribute to an intentional shaping of the future through an intentional shaping of what it means to be human. How we conceive of the future and our role in it matters. Haraway (2016) stresses the importance of our mental frameworks in our ability to think when she quotes anthropologist Marilyn Strathern, “It matters what ideas one uses to think other ideas with.”
In the dominant linear view of time, the future is a progression of the present for which we must prepare for, adapt to or work to maintain. From a whole systems view (phenomenological, Actor Network Theory), the future is an open field of possibilities to which we contribute as active collaborators through our ways of thinking, acting and being.
I argue that by endeavouring to prepare young people to thrive in the current broken (unsustainable) systems, education is reinforcing these systems and contributing to the development of worldviews optimised for this brokenness. In this way, education is contributing to a compromised capacity to make sense of the world and an inability to act in ways that create new horizons (Carse, 1986).
Acknowledging that education plays an integral role in the direction of human evolution, the urgent question is:
How do we reapproach our roles in education so that we are participating in the larger arch of human development towards the more integrated and peaceful world we desire?
This series of articles will explore how the conscious educator can develop a more integrated philosophy and practice of education within a developmental understanding of humans as highly conscious members of a radically interconnected and continually emerging world.
Carse, J. (1986). Finite and Infinite Games. New York: The Free Press, Macmilan.
Haraway, D. (2016). Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the chthulucene. London: Duke University Press.