What is education anyway? What are the essential
components for learning, if a person is to be
considered well-educated? How did we get to our current
understanding of what education “should” look like?
This section aims to provide some thoughts regarding education. While I have endeavoured to research thoroughly and present a range of ideas, nothing will replace your own research into topics which particularly interest you. Links throughout will hopefully lead you in some interesting directions for your further explorations, as you read the articles here.
Articles in this section:
Please use these links, or the tabs along the top of the page
and the drop-down menus to navigate your way around.
What is “Education”?
A dictionary study of educate and education reveals that an education should develop, prepare, train, cultivate and civilise us, imparting to us the ability to acquire good general knowledge, develop our powers of reasoning and judgement, and generally prepare us intellectually for mature life. The visual depiction on Thinkmap’s Visual Thesaurus is useful here, too.
Actually, I love the way Wikipedia defines the word: Education in the largest sense is any act or experience that has a formative effect on the mind, character or physical ability of an individual. In its technical sense, education is the process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge, skills and values from one generation to another.
From Etyonline: Etymologically, the word education is derived from educare (Latin) “bring up”, which is related to educere “bring out”, “bring forth what is within”, “bring out potential” and ducere, “to lead”.
Within the last few generations, our understanding of ‘education’ has become very entwined with the word ‘schooling‘, which means ‘institutionalised instruction’. While we can readily accept that education is beneficial to all, we can also recognise that ‘schooling’ is not necessarily. As home educators, this is an important distinction for us to make and understand.
One of the most interesting questions we can ponder, in considering the education of our children is:
What is the purpose of education?
For most people, the basic answer to this question is, “so you can get a good job.” Increasingly, however, people with even impressive university degrees end up as fry-cooks in fast food restaurants – a turn of events which can be incredibly disheartening after years of sacrifice and study. An array of letters after your name do not assure you of a higher income than your ‘less educated’ peers.
There are many jobs that are vital to society which can be done with great efficiency by even those who barely have even basic literacy and numeracy skills, yet society could not function without someone being willing to do those jobs. I don’t believe that the purpose of education can be just about future employment – it must be something more.
One of my favourite answers to this question is from American social writer and philosopher, Eric Hoffer:
“The central task of education is to implant a will and facility for learning; it should produce not learned but learning people. The truly human society is a learning society, where grandparents, parents, and children are students together.”
There is no doubt that if you as that question publicly, you will be afforded quite an array of answers.
To put my theory to the test, I asked the question on my Facebook page, and found great amusement and delight in the array of answers.
- A school student (17) said: The purpose of education is to rise above your teachers.
- A lawyer said: The purpose of education is: to satisfy our natural curiosity, to develop life skills and therefore our lives, to absorb wonderfulness and dwell on it to our immense satisfaction. Education as a proactive activity should be to provide opportunity for and facilitate individual learning and developing paths.
- An artist said: The purpose of education should be to help you be able to continue to learn … you should learn to read, write, use a library (or these days a computer), for research so that you can teach yourself, do arithmetic, etc.
- An IT geek said: The purpose of education is to educate.
- A home educated student (16) said: The purpose of education is to help me grow as a person. There are so many things to discover and explore – I believe we’re supposed to learn what we can and grow from it.
- A former type-setter said: The purpose of education is so that we don’t perish. Not just die physically. There are many other ways to perish: emotionally, spiritually, financially, health-wise.
- A charity worker said: The purpose of education is so that we don’t waste our precious time on earth. Ignorance binds up hearts and minds and robs people of their full potential.
- A homemaker said: The purpose of education is to enhance the ability to learn, and the ability to learn is a ladder to freedom. Freedom to choose; freedom to be who and what you want to be. It is the empowerment of the mind.
- A home educator said: The purpose of education is to develop the ability to absorb both good and negative information, process it healthily, and thus benefit from it.
- A retail worker said: The purpose of education is to enable each us to reach our full potential.
In all the answers that my friends discussed on my Facebook post (and it actually became a very lively discussion, with over forty responses), the common threads were freedom, development, realising potential and contribution. Interestingly, those would be the themes I’ve picked upon, too, from my reading of diverse material of recent years.
In Sally Dingo’s story of her husband Ernie’s family, Dingo: The Story of Our Mob, she relates how Ernie’s forebears realised that their children needed purposeful education in the ways of the white man. They saw education as a means to opportunity and freedom that their own high intelligence and enviable skills in their own ways had not afforded them.
For us, living in a prosperous nation at prosperous time in history, perhaps we don’t focus much on how an education can deliver us from enslavement, yet history tells a very stark story in that regard.
When my own daughter was just a baby, I was having some dental work done by a Chinese dentist. During one of our sessions, he excused himself and went through to the living quarters at the back of his dental surgery. From my captive position on the chair, I heard him berate his five-year-old daughter, that she wasn’t taking her “school career” seriously enough!
Just recently, over a family meal with friends whose cultural heritage is rather multi-faceted, somehow this story emerged. The dad from the other family, who is part Chinese, nodded knowingly. “For him, he would see it as the difference between her earning a dollar a day in a factory, or earning a good living the future. For the Chinese, especially first generation in Australia, the memory is very fresh.” My hairdresser, from Hong Kong, told me that there is a saying her language that education is the difference between eating rice and eating the water the rice has been cooked in.
By giving his daughter an education, my dentist saw that he was not only giving her the freedom to have choices in the future, but he was encouraging her to develop to her fullest. I might still struggle with his communication methods, but I have gained understanding of his intentions.
Jessica Watson is an example of a home educated student who has been prepared and encouraged to pursue her dream from a young age. While I don’t know a lot about Jessica’s preparation for her solo around-the-world adventure, I am reminded of another home educator, whose story I heard at a conference some years ago.
Ellen’s daughter got the idea in her head when she was eleven, that she wanted to travel alone to the United States. At the time, Abbi wouldn’t even catch a bus by herself, so when her parents realised that she was really determined about her adventure, they began to train her for it. They taught her about timetables and what to do when things didn’t happen as expected. She took an unsupervised bus-trip to family friends in Melbourne, from her home in Queensland. She spent time at the airport, observing how things happened. Of course there was plenty of discussion, and along the way there were mishaps, but when she was thirteen, Abbi did travel alone to the United States, where she visited all the people she wanted to see, saw all the sites she wanted to see, and had all the adventures she’d dreamed about. She went prepared and with support, but on her own, as desired.
Anybody with a good heart can make a valuable contribution to society. Contributing in a way that packs a punch that resounds down through the generations, however, cannot be done without education. Such an education may not be formal, but it must be fuelled by interest and passion.
In exploring the topic of education – what it is and finding purpose in it – I have been dumbfounded by the amount of information available that does nothing to promote education as a joyous pursuit. There are the obvious statements, the overly ideal notions, and the hype. Not many of those appeal to me.
Somehow, my thoughts return to my voracious forebears, who received a ‘hedjumacation’ rather than formal schooling. Their pursuit of knowledge was joyous and purpose-filled, and left them feeling satisfied, yet somehow thirsty for more.
What is education, and what is its purpose, to your way of thinking?
I hope you find joy in sharing your dream with your child..
Whoever ceases to be a student has never been a student.
~ George Iles