Why Educate?

A few weeks ago, I had to write a “Philosophy of Teaching”.

So I tried to sum up my philosophy;

“I believe that the purpose of education is to teach a person how to think. Students should not parrot back the ideas of the teacher, but should learn to comprehend, analyze and judge for themselves. As a teacher, I want my students to learn not just the facts and material with which we work, but the ways in which they can apply this knowledge to their lives. Education is not a thing which is left at school, but it affects what it means to be a person.

I want to relate to each student and reach them where ever they are in terms of education, experience and interest. I want to give my students the tools with which they can seek  answers on their own.”

I was trying to apply for a teaching position at a local community college.

The impact of teachers on my life has been great. I know that teaching is incredibly important. My soon-to-be degree supposedly qualifies me to be a teacher. But I do not know if I am of the material to be a good teacher; speaking in class still unnerves me, and the thought of being in the front is slightly terrifying.

However, I want to try.

Unfortunately, my said philosophy does not seem to have impressed the board at this college.

I wonder what sort of answer would have been acceptable. What are they looking for? What does a community college see as the purpose and drive of education?

A few days ago, an article from the Washington Post began to make the round of Facebook. This article shared the results of “When an Adult Took Standardized Tests Forced on Kids“.

Leaving aside the dubious grammar of the title – is it just me, or is there supposed to be an article before “standardized tests”? Perhaps, “the standardized tests”? – the article makes a fairly salient point:


I have thought this ever since I had to take these tests. But when a person with two master degrees fails the test that determines the futures of all our high schoolers, it seems that something is wrong. Not only that, but apparently now principals are revolting over being judged on how high their students score.  This person who took the test then concluded that

“I have a wide circle of friends in various professions. Since taking the test, I’ve detailed its contents as best I can to many of them, particularly the math section, which does more than its share of shoving students in our system out of school and on to the street. Not a single one of them said that the math I described was necessary in their profession.

It makes no sense to me that a test with the potential for shaping a student’s entire future has so little apparent relevance to adult, real-world functioning. Who decided the kind of questions and their level of difficulty? Using what criteria? To whom did they have to defend their decisions? As subject-matter specialists, how qualified were they to make general judgments about the needs of this state’s children in a future they can’t possibly predict? Who set the pass-fail “cut score”? How?

I can’t escape the conclusion that decisions about the [state test] in particular and standardized tests in general are being made by individuals who lack perspective and aren’t really accountable.”

He makes an interesting argument. Benjamin Franklin would agree with him.

Education is not preparing students for life. It is not imparting the knowledge that enable a person to “be successful”.

Here again we have the idea that an education something that teaches children how to live in the adult world. As Franklin said,

 “As to their STUDIES, it would be well if they could be taught every Thing that is useful, and every Thing that is ornamental: But Art is long, and their Time is short. It is therefore propos’d that they learn those Things that are likely to be most useful and most ornamental. Regard being had to the several Professions for which they are intended.”

Put simply, an education is to prepare one for a profession.

But, here we just have another perspective on “success”. If holding a good job and owning a condo in the Caribbean is a marker of a successful person, then how is that different from being in the top of the “testing percentile”? And this without even the slight concession to “ornament” and “art”.

There is something wrong with the current education system. But the issue is not just in the flawed practical applications that are being fought on the testing “standards”.

It is in the approach to education. It is the present “Philosophy of Education” that considers learning to be simply an accruement of facts or skills to be used in ‘real life’.

But this is limiting education, making it not only boring, but impotent.

Education is for the good the soul, forming not only skills, but habits  and loves that last a lifetime.

The purpose of education is not to get a degree, which then helps to get a job, but to learn to love. Love life, life others, love God. It should give a person the ability to think, to analyze,  to understand, to communicate, to figure out what it mean to live a good life and then to do so.

Teachers can provide a start to a good education, but a student should be able to follow through own their own. We are all responsible for our own education.

I say all this without having the practical experience of its application. I never went to high school formally. I have never taught a class. I have not seen first hand the difficulties that public school teachers face. I am not sure how to practically apply this.

But the philosophy holds. We can see the trouble that is facing the school system in America. I would rather die than send my own kids to public school. And this will not change until there is a shift on how we see and value education.

One of the best educators of all time, the man who flouted convention to teach his daughters Greek and Latin, Sir Thomas More, said that

“Education is not the piling on of learning, information, data, facts, skills, or abilities – that is training or instruction – but is rather making visible what is hidden as a seed. . . To be educated, a person doesn’t have to know much or be informed, but he or she does have to have been exposed vulnerably to the transformative events of an engaged human life.”

Yet even in those days, Sir Thomas recognized that

“One of the greatest problems of our time is that so many are schooled, but so few are educated.”


5 thoughts on “Why Educate?

  1. My mother is an teacher, and something she said to me about the way the public, and most private schools operate, struck me. She pointed out that, at the root of our education dysfunction is the separation of knowledge into supposedly un-connected disciplines. We have lost the concept that knowledge interconnects, and that understanding (which is, of course, the only thing that will help us remember what we learn in school) is a web. The more we toss facts at kids, whether they be useless facts or not, the less they will remember because facts and memorization are not the same as understanding. Children, and adults both need something to hang their information on, and that something is, I think, what you are pointing out in this blog. True education.

    Ok, I will climb off my soap-box now and feed myself. Hungry…

    • The concept of the Liberal Arts seems to have been discarded from public schools, but there are a few marvelous institutions keep it up! Hev you heards of the Chesterton Academy? or Rivendell Sanctuary? I am tempted to try to get work at both places!

      Did you eve get cookies?

  2. I think I really like your style. You wrote:

    “But I do not know if I am of the material to be a good teacher; speaking in class still unnerves me, and the thought of being in the front is slightly terrifying.”

    I think its normal to be nervous when you teach, especially in the beginning but it keeps you alert. It should not become a routine because then it will be boring for you and your pupils.
    Secondly I do not know if you have to be “in front” in order to teach. The best teachers I know are not in front but in the middle of the class, they are part of it.

    I wish you luck anyways!

  3. Yes, the problem is in the approach. And, of course, “how” education actually happens, “how” a student comes into his or her own is not ultimately some method possessed by the teacher. Rather this “how,” as one of my teachers once wrote, is an “almost miraculous” event for which classroom and teacher exist to provide the encouragement and preconditions.

    But, really, I only comment to ask: where is that first Thomas More quote coming from? The language of it is, to me, surprising and interesting. e.g. the phrase about “exposure” and “vulnerability” to “transformative events” (which I find particularly striking and wonderful) also seems to me surprisingly “modern.”

    I also like that “making visible what is hidden as a seed.”

    • Exactly! Beautilfully said, whoever that teacher was.On those lines, the Abbey of Theleme is still my favorite model for schools!

      The Thomas More quotes are from the big pink Thomas More Source Book, in the section on education. I do not have the book with me at the moment, so I cannot tell you which writing exactly. It IS a translation, and it should be available on the internet somewhere.

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