What is Education?

I am a "life-long learner". I believe that education is something that an individual obtains on their own, although society will do everything it believes necessary to inculcate the standard paradigms. While we educators may attempt to educate, only the student can make the decision to learn. One of the funniest things I ever heard was spoken by the teacher who proclaimed "I taught it to them; they just didn't learn it!" Education cannot be imposed. That being said, each moment presents opportunities for education, and I believe that a wise person will seize every chance to receive whatever education seems worthwhile to him or her.

I am not at all sure that education has a purpose: what is the purpose of studying Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" -- for entertainment, to learn more about logic, as a psychological study of an eccentric man, as literature, as political commentary, ...? Sometimes one will hear words to this effect: "That math teacher sure did teach me the importance of doing one's homework!" That's odd: it may not even have been in the syllabus; it may, in fact, have been the last thing on the teacher's mind; but the number one lesson is a product of the classroom experience and the student's own experiences -- not something handed out in a neat and tidy package. In the book "The Education of Little Tree" the main character (Little Tree) ultimately ends up in a school -- an "educational facility" -- but all the important education he receives (which helps protect him against the "education" provided by the "educational institution") he receives from his grandparents, friends, and neighbors.

Education happens when you open your eyes and ears, and absorb important lessons that guide you to better living. My life is filled with important "educational moments", only rarely associated with schools. Once, on a bitterly cold Thanksgiving day, my dad and I were using a rotor rooter on a plugged sewer line. I was holding the twisting metal coil as we fed it into the line, when suddenly the rooter caught hold of my glove and I found my hand being twisted around and around -- and so I felt compelled to follow! When my dad got the machine turned off a few seconds later, he told me that his father had always told him that "Sawyers don't wear gloves." They could get their gloves caught in a blade, and that might pull their hand into the saw. He said that he guessed rotor rooter operators shouldn't wear gloves, either.

So perhaps this is the purpose of education. I'll never forget that sawyers don't wear gloves, and I've never had my hand pulled into a saw blade -- so far, so good. And I'll never forget that this piece of education came to my attention during an experiential moment I shared with one of my favorite educators. If there is a purpose to education, then perhaps it was provided by Socrates -- "the unexamined life is not worth living," and the examination of life is the essence of education.

Website maintained by Andy Long. Comments appreciated.