The Purpose of Education — #EdChat Summary: 12-13-11

Topic: What is the purpose of education now and going forward?

This week’s #edchat was truly a test of one’s ability to read quickly and tap out Twitter replies even quicker. I think that’s because the topic was so broad that everyone wanted to weigh in instead of sitting back and commenting only every once in a while. I know that I saw a lot of new and unfamiliar names this week, suggesting that either a lot of people signed on for the first time in months or that there are generally many participants that don’t talk as much as they did this time around.

Either way, it’s fine by me! Honestly, I think as many people should participate in #edchat as possible. It might make for a more confusing and disorganized discussion than we had even this week, but as Tom Whitby pointed out to me, the real value of #edchat comes after – on the blogs, in the water-cooler conversations, and as the continued sense of motivation felt by those teachers that participate.

Sometimes we forget that the value of something goes deeper than the thing itself. I know that I was guilty of that this week. I was getting frustrated that this week’s #edchat didn’t seem as beneficial as the other ones in which I’ve participated. But I realized that that didn’t really matter. For one thing, value is subjective (meaning some may have thought this was the best #edchat ever), and for another, I was forgetting that the value of #edchat is as a conversation starter (not as the conversation itself).

Of course, there is still one thing that bothered me about this week’s #edchat, and that’s how quickly it changed into a discussion of why standardized testing is bad and how poverty affects what teachers can reasonably be expected to accomplish. Both of these issues are important, to be sure – and I can certainly understand how they would be hot-button issues for teachers in this day and age. But do we really need to talk about them every week? I don’t know. Perhaps we do.

Anyway, on to the main themes and the list of my favorite tweets. As I am viewing this week’s #edchat as the beginning (or perhaps a continuation) of the conversation, I am mostly going to focus on some of the excellent questions raised and ignore most of the (sometimes equally excellent) 140 character responses. So I highly encourage you to take some time and read through the archive of this week’s chat, once it’s up.

Main themes From the discussion:

  • The purpose of education is… education. Can education (or learning) be an end unto itself? Maybe; maybe not. One thing is certainly clear, though. The purpose of education should be the education itself. It shouldn’t be about anything else, like testing, job training, etc. That other stuff is just that: other stuff. It has its place, but it’s not the stuff of proper education. The emphasis of proper education should always be learning. Why? Because success at anything requires one to never stop learning about that thing (and perhaps many others, too!).
  • This question has many answers. Of course, it must be pointed out that the purpose of education is not something that can easily be nailed down – especially not on Twitter in under 140 characters! (Makes me think of that famous phrase by Marshall McLuhan.) Every educator who participated this week had something to say in answer, and most of them were right on the money. And that’s okay. Education doesn’t have to have the same purpose to all people at all times and for all occasions. In fact, it definitely shouldn’t.
  • One must consider who is asking the question. If I ask you what the purpose of education is, as someone who blogs about education, you might give me a very different response than if a principal who just gave you a lecture about standardized tests asked you. Or a parent who wants to know why you’re giving his kid so much homework. Or a taxpayer wondering why he pays so much money for public schools when he sends his kid to private school. And on and on and on. Truly, perspective is important when considering this question. That’s something of a disclaimer.
  • Are “school” and “education” synonymous? Now we’re getting into the real meat of the discussion. I believe it was Berni Wall that asked the question, “Do we really need schools?” In other words: “Can education happen better outside of schools (as we currently know them)?” The general consensus seems to be that there are many, many improvements to be made, but that we shouldn’t throw out the entire institution simply because it isn’t perfect. Nothing is. I think this is sage reasoning. As tempting as it is to look at all the necessary reforms on the docket and decide instead to start over from scratch, I don’t think that’s the best way to help students. Which is, after all, the goal, right? To help students.
  • Educational goals are evolving over time. This is another meaty issue, and one that is nicely illustrated by fact that this discussion happened over Twitter. Let’s say, hypothetically, that we had stumbled across the ultimate goal of education; that we had firmly nailed it down. Even if we had, in a few weeks it would be almost entirely gone and forgotten, remembered only on a few blogs (like this one) and in a few teacher’s jumbled memories. Twitter itself is transient, just like education. Education is here to help students live in (and change, hopefully for the better) the world around them. Because this world is a dynamic one, education must be as well. That puts a lot of pressure on educators. Fortunately, there are some truly great ones out there.

My favorite tweets from the discussion:

elanaleoni @pernilleripp wrote a great blog on the purpose of #education. In her words: “It is to learn.” http://t.co/FWrDslil

weisburghm Goal of education for whom? For the students? Community? Parents? Future employers? Nation? World?

davidwees Who should decide the goals of education? Is it industry? Private interests? Educators? Parents? Students?

tonnet Is the purpose of education to just graduate professionals?

CrudBasher Perhaps rhetorical: If everyone has different idea of purpose of education, can one system fit all answers?

tomwhitby The goal of education is different from what it was 10 years ago. Problem is, most educators come from that era. It can be daunting.

weisburghm Is education FOR the students or TO the students?

drdouggreen @jdavis43 A lot of what happens in schools is done for the comfort of the adults.

MrTwyman5 Maybe another question should be what is NOT the purpose of education and to what extent does policy prevent that?

MertonTech Is education for the society or for the individual?

tomwhitby 10 Ways School Has Changed… http://t.co/1jFc8nSN

rliberni @jrichardson30 Education is much more than a just a process. It has many guises — is it possible to define?

tomwhitby If we are creating life-long learners with great self esteem, is that a measurable commodity by graduation?

rliberni Do we really need schools?

cybraryman1 Learning takes place everywhere and at all times.

weisburghm As a parent, I wanted the education system to help my kids lead happy lives that help others.

tomwhitby Here is a goal http://t.co/vpZiauz7

To follow the complete discussion, look for the full archive here.  They’re usually posted up by the end of the week.

Looking to discuss #edtech in depth? Check out the LinkedIn group: Edutech Trends, Visions, Passions.

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