Monday, March 8, 2010

Purpose of an Education

Ok, so the modelling post was a bit premature.  I'll get to it, eventually, but now I have a more fundamental questions:  What is the prupose of a standard K-12 education?  This is something that all public schools work toward, and private-, charter-, and homeschoolers tend to emulate. 

There are many answers given, such as preparing a person for college, preparing a person for a job, or preparing a person to be able to learn what they want/need later in life.  I don't care for any of these, and even question whether there is a good answer.

If I wanted my hypothetical son to be prepared for college, what should he need to learn about?  Well, what is he going to college for?  If he wants to be a biologist, he won't need as much history in K-12.  If he wants to be a poet, then he should focus more on language than math and science.  The problem with this answer is that most people don't know what they want to study in college until they are almost there, or even a couple years in.  So he had best be prepared for anything, which is both good and bad, from different standpoints.

What if I wanted hom to be prepared for a job, or maybe trade school?  Again, what kind of job?  If he's going into carpentry, then his history lessons should focus more on  the history of architecture and building materials.  His math should also be applicable.  What if he wants to be an astronaut, fireman, or doctor at the ripe old age of 5?  As he's just about to enter school, he should start focusing on his future as soon as he learns the basics.

And if I just want him to get the basics so he can decide later what he wants to study?  Then he needs a very broad background to fully understand all of the choices he could make.  He needs to get some introduction to history, technology, writing, math, reading, astronomy, science, research, drawing, playing all kinds of sports...  The list goes on infinitely.  No human could learn enough about every possible future in order to pick the best one.  This means that any life we live is inherently sub-optimal.  If we had an infinite lifetime, then we could spend all of eterniy looking at our choices.  But since we have a bound future, we have to give up our search at some point and start living. 

This still leaves us with the question of what the purpose of an education is.  A good starting point is to determine what the point of life is.  I'm a firm believer that each person has a different purpose in life, and that we give ourselves that purpose.  So if I have purpose X in life, as I choose it, what should education X be like?  Notice how this tells us that each person requires a different education, that there is no standard for all. 

Of course we have to keep in mind that there are extremely few children that are ready to choose their life's purpose.  Otherwise, many children would live their lives to play and beat every video game.  This is not the reason we choose our purpose.  We choose to apply our lives toward some goal.  We may even change our prupose throughout life.  My own has been wavering near many different things.  I'm never sure if I've finally chosen what I really want to do.

We now have a moving target, but at least we can begin to aim.  For my personal beliefs, an education seems to be what you need to find and follow through with your life's purpose.  So what do we need to figure this out?  We need to start with the basics.  Reading, writing, and math, to begin with, which kind of gets into the Core Curriculum.  Everyone should be exposed to a wide variety of experiences and skills.  Any interest in a given skill, even one that no one thinks is important, should be given close attention.  Many famous people were told as kids that their interests were not worth it, that they could never make a living, and that they should focus on going to college, getting a good job, and keeping their head down.

So far, much of what we said is very similar to how people see a typical public school; you learn the basics, get to try many different things, and (eventually) can choose electives that fit what you enjoy.  But there are two things that most kids don't learn:  how to learn and how to think.  They learn how to take tests, write essays, and answer questions, but not how to build up a strong knowledge base.  I'm someone who is looking into better learning strategies, mostly with holistic learning (more on this later).  Learning how to think is even more difficult.  Are we talking about logical thinking?  Creative thinking?  Critical thinking?  All of the above? 

I think everyone should be given as many tools as possible with as much instruction as possible.  Then they need to be taught the best times to use each.  These tools should be from a combination of the body and mind.  A healthy mind is very dependent on a healthy body, and a person's purpose may be working with their hands, whether with art or in a garden. 

There needs to be a strong knowledge base, as I've mentioned, in order to give a person a wide range of options, as well as the ability to tie things together.  As early as deemed possible (preferably on an individual basis) each student should be allowed to take electives that interest them. 

This is sounding to be a bit like unschooling.  While I see some benefits to unschooling, I do see one major flaw:  no guidance, leaving a student to do absolutely nothing.  Not every child is motivated to learn.  Most aren't, especially around the time they enter Middle School.  Far too many children become apathetic toward anything that takes effort.  "It hurts to think." "I'm too tired."  On the other hand, I'm not saying that a parent should be a totalitarian, either.  Any student should be able to explore, but should also be guided to think about things more deeply, and to see the connections within knowledge.  This especially applies to children. 

I started this blog post asking what a child/student should get out of a standard K-12 education.  I think I have made some headway into answering this, from my perspective, but that I have a LONG way to go.  This is not an easy topic.  And as with all complex topics, there will be a complex answer.  But it's an answer that I'm hoping to figure out with the help of this and my other blogs.

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