What's the Point of Education, Anyway?

Most people I speak with are frustrated or worried about the state of our education system.  We often disagree on what the problem actually is, but, whether we believe its due to poverty, the new Secretary of Education, the absence of God in schools, the teaching to the test, the binding of teachers’ hands as they must comply with more and more regulations, teacher tenure, the overabundance of homework, the developmentally inappropriate expectations, common core, etc, we generally agree that our education system needs some work.

I am not about to declare that I know the root causes of our educational concerns.  All of the reasons cited above could be correct, incorrect, way off base, or supremely accurate.  I don’t really know.  

What I do know, is that we, as a society, seem to be confused about what we want from education.  

A few months ago, I was chatting with my uber-intelligent big brother.  And he made an observation that has stuck with me and solidified the education choices I already had been making for my children.  He pointed out that our education system continues to be focused on providing information.  It focuses on filling sponge-like brains with scores of information about science, health, language, mathematics, history, the arts, etc.  Students are told information and then tested to see how much of that information they remember.

My brother went on to point out that information used to be currency.  Back a few decades ago, those who had more knowledge had more power.  But, our world has changed dramatically.  Information is no longer the golden ticket.  Practically everyone has immediate access to information.  All we have to do is take the mini-computer out of our pocket and ask siri or google and voila!  Information at our fingertips.  Information is no longer power.  Yet, when I think of our traditional school settings, I think of it imparting knowledge and information.  Yes, kids need basic information.  They need basic mathematics, literacy, and general knowledge to function well in this world. But beyond that . . .?

Of course I think education is important.  But I also think that we’re in the business of preparing our children to thrive in this world that is ever changing and for careers that don’t even exist yet.  My children will not “get ahead” simply because they know more information.  

And yet, I continually find myself battling internally with regard to my choices in our homeschooling.  I get frustrated when we don’t get through a math problem set.  Or I worry that my oldest needs more geography and history.  Or I push the boys hard to get through the “important” subjects so they have the knowledge and information.  I completely understand how difficult it is to break our typical mindset and expectations about education.

On good days, when I find myself getting into those battles, I take a breath, slow down, and remember that what my children actually need is strong character, the ability to learn, the desire and confidence to pursue their interests, the ingenuity to problem solve, and the regulation skills to be balanced, content individuals.  On these good days, I put the books away and we simply explore our world and learn.  Or, we stick to the books, because there are still some basic knowledge things that’ll be helpful for them, but we take the pressure off and focus on the character building traits of study habits, emotion regulation, choosing mindset, or communicating assertively.

On the good days, when I worry about if I’m doing enough, I remember to focus on what my children will really need in order to thrive in this world.  I remember to focus on guiding whole, secure, conscientious little people instead of simply filling little spongy brains with knowledge they can access from one of the 15 or so electronic devices roaming around our home.  I ask myself, “What is the point of education, anyway?” and plan my day accordingly.

And I think we’re at that crossroads for our broader education system, as well.  My daughter attends the neighborhood public school and I work with many elementary, middle, and high school level students in my counseling practice who are being educated in our local schools.  And, for the most part, I am quite impressed with the dedicated people who work endlessly to care for and provide for our children and students.  For the most part, I do think our children are receiving the general information that they need and that schools are doing a fine job of keeping up with technological changes.

But, I also think our teachers and students are stuck.  They are stuck between an education system which continues to focus on information rather than problem solving, on checking the boxes rather than thinking outside of the box, and a world that values innovation, creativity, and requires brains that can’t be tested because they are the ones that are coming up with the questions.

We need to focus more broadly on what we actually want to provide our students.  We need to decide that prioritizing information is outdated.  We need to allow our creative and caring teachers and administrators to break past information checklists and into development of those intangibles in our children.  We need to ask ourselves, “what is the point of education, anyway, and what do we want it to be?”