The Purpose of Education?

Interesting read on the purpose of education.

  1. Wisdom to understand the parts and know how they come together
  2. Wisdom to know when to pull out the cards and what response to use at what times
  3. Ability to get across your ideas

How are we doing as a society achieving these lofty goals? Should education be teaching practical skills like welding;

Recall Marco Rubio’s quip three years ago that “[w]e need more welders and less [he meant ‘fewer’] philosophers.” (He recanted earlier this year, realizing that, after all, both are important.)

or computer programming?  Is STEM the answer, how about if we add STEAM (the arts)?

Rethinking the Purpose of Education

… First, education aims at “wisdom.” What is wisdom? It is, in the opinion of the ancient philosophers Cicero and Seneca, “knowledge of things human and divine.” It is an ordered reflection on the nature of reality in the broad sense. It is reflection on how the parts comprise a whole, and it is knowledge of that whole. Wisdom knows the human arts and sciences, it has some sense of the way those are ordained and arranged by God, and it knows how to tell the difference between the two.

Second, education aims at “prudence.” What is prudence? It is improvisatory wisdom. It is the application of the contemplative knowledge of the whole to the practical considerations of everyday life. It asks, “What does wisdom require of me in this situation?” And it knows how to answer.

Third, education aims at “eloquence.” What is eloquence? It is not flowery speech. It is not purple prose. It is not verbal pyrotechnics. It is the cultivated ability to discuss a subject with intelligence from all angles and comprehensively. It is the transformation of wisdom’s knowledge into human speech. This third aim is not optional, but is demanded by our very nature. For man is a speaking animal, and if ratio, “reason,” compels us to seek the fellowship of other rational animals, no less does oratio, “speech,” compel us to find the company of other creatures as loquacious as we are. Eloquence, furthermore, makes what we have learned available to others and makes it known in a persuasive way.

There is little hope that such a view of education will make great waves with our current educational establishment. It is too impractical, offers few material or corporate rewards, and creates too much potential for thought and the unapproved opinions to which such thought will give birth. Still, perhaps it’s not too late to see that this view is more in keeping with the kind of beings we are — those whose heads are raised from the earth — and is therefore better attuned to our higher aspirations. We are men before we are employees. Perhaps it is time for our educationalists to acknowledge that fact.

E.J. Hutchinson is Associate Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.